A UNIVERSITY which pledged to withdraw investments from oil companies has been accused of "vacuous posturing" by its own academics, sparking a row with students.


Five professors said the decision by Glasgow University's ruling Court was "deplorable" because alternatives to fossil fuels were not currently available in the quantities required to meet demand.

However, Glasgow University Climate Action Society has hit back saying the academics are "missing the point".

The row comes after Glasgow University became the first institution in Europe to pledge to withdraw investments from oil companies on environmental grounds after a year-long campaign from students and green campaigners.

It means some £18 million of the university's £130m endowment fund currently invested in companies such as Shell, BP and Chevron will be re-allocated over the next decade - as long as the financial impact was "acceptable".

In a joint letter in the wake of the decision the professors, who include Professor Paul Younger, Rankine chair of engineering at the university, said: "We write as senior academics.... who actively research the decarbonisation of energy to deplore the decision of our university court to divest from fossil fuels.

"The Court's position is vacuous posturing, since alternatives to fossil fuels are not yet available at scale for heat and transport, or for electricity production on demand.

"Indeed, our university has just committed itself to a new gas-fired campus heating system, not least because the only current renewable alternative had a far poorer environmental profile."

The professors said the skills and facilities of the hydrocarbons sector were "indispensable" to the development of carbon capture and storage which are seen as key to achieving emissions reduction targets.

The letter adds: "We trust that those academic colleagues who voted for this gesture have had the moral consistency to turn off the heating in their offices, entirely fossil-fuelled, and to switch off their computers and room lights for the 34.5 per cent of the working day that fossil fuels provide electricity in Scotland."

Glasgow University Climate Action Society said it was clear that society was currently run on fossil fuels, but that this needed to change in order to mitigate effects of climate change.

A spokesman said: "The demand of the divestment campaign is not based on the argument that institutions can stop using fossil fuels right this second. Instead, our demand is based on the immorality of profiting from the very companies which are driving climate change.

"Many institutions, like Glasgow University, have environmental policies and are trying to reduce their own carbon emissions and this is inconsistent with profiting from an industry which is continuing to emit greenhouse gases without significant checks.

"Divestment is about attacking the financial and political power of fossil fuel companies.... and without public pressure there will be no incentives for change."

A spokesman for Glasgow University said: "We fully appreciated the concerns that some academics raised at that time, and therefore worked with colleagues on a statement which... reaffirms our commitment to a wide range of teaching and research activities in energy science and engineering, including both fossil fuels and renewables.

"It was our intention to allay any concerns that staff or students might have had about the important and world leading research that we carry out in these fields."

The other academics who signed the joint letter, which first appeared in the Guardian, were Professor Colin McInnes, James Watt chair and professor of engineering science, Professor Fin Stuart, Professor of isotope geosciences, Professor Rob Ellam, director of Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre and Professor Adrian Boyce, professor of applied geology.