Fossil Fuel Funding

Imperial College London receives over £30million in funding from fossil fuel industry

The Earth Science departments of various UK universities have been revealed to have received funding from the fossil fuel industry over the past few years, despite various pledges of divestment from the sector.

Imperial College London has come out as the UK university that receives the most funding from the fossil fuel industry. Their Earth Sciences department has been reported to receive £30,100,000 in funding from major coal, oil and gas industries.

In a recent investigation covered by the Independent, it was revealed that funding from the fossil fuel industry has supported research and teaching across the Earth Science departments of various Russell Group universities since 2015, despite consistent pledges over that time to aid the climate emergency and divest from fossil fuel companies.

Whilst Imperial College London came out as the top recipient of funding at £30.1m, the University of Leeds was close behind receiving £11.2 million, of which £5.3m was devoted to research and the rest for fee income of taught programmes. UCL also received nearly one million pounds worth of funding from the sector.

The highest university recipients of funding are as follows:

  1. Imperial College London: £30,100,000
  2. University of Leeds: £11,200,000
  3. University of Edinburgh: £7,524,274
  4. University of Oxford: £4,865,248
  5. University of Cambridge: £1,672, 526
  6. University College London: £901,396
  7. Cardiff University: £879,902
  8. University of Bristol: £845,234
  9. University of Liverpool: £819,447
  10. Durham University: £700,402
  11. University of Glasgow: £595,412
  12. University of Warwick: £554,847
  13. University of Exeter: £60,360
  14. Newcastle University: £10,865

Fossil Fuel Industry

It appears that the total amount of money received by the universities in question could be higher than these figures. Some universities declined to provide information for the entire industry, instead only releasing their endowments from the 50 largest fossil fuel companies. Others, such as Newcastle University, only gave data from 2017 onwards, and universities such as the University of Manchester declined to provide any information. King’s College London, the University of Sheffield, and the London School of Economics do not have a defined earth science department and therefore were not included in this inquiry by the Independent.

Imperial College London is home to the esteemed Grantham Institute for Climate Change, and recently launched a programme aimed at ‘helping society reach zero pollution’. A spokesperson for the university stated: “Our scientists and engineers are working at the leading edge of clean and sustainable energy technology as we work towards a zero-pollution economy… Where companies’ current activities and future plans are not aligned with Imperial’s policies, and efforts at influence do not work, we will sever ties.”

Yet, this research has been funded by the industries that delay necessary action against the climate change disaster. There is an argument that industry-supported research can lead to the eventual independence of the energy sector from the fossil fuel industry and onto more renewable sources, however, the progression to this achievement based upon endowments and support from unsustainable and detrimental coal, oil and gas companies appears paradoxical.

The top recipients of these endowments have previously stated their divestment from fossil fuel companies after pressure and protests from both students and environmental activists. In October 2019, University College London announced its divestment from fossil fuels as part of its new sustainability strategy. This strategy also included plans of UCL buildings being carbon-zero by 2024, and the entire institution by 2031, with the Provost and President Michael Arthur stating: “Universities have a responsibility to lead change for environmental and social sustainability.”

In March 2018, both Durham University and the University of Bristol divested from the fossil fuel industry, however seemingly continued to acquire funding for their earth science departments. The University of Cambridge has been the most recent to divest, stopping its £3.5bn endowments of the industry in October 2020.

In 2019, 78 of the UK’s 154 universities had pledged to divest from fossil fuel investments, seemingly placing nationwide judgement on the social license of this industry. However, this recent information shows that even though there may be a current process of divestment by various universities, the number of endowments that already have been received and in turn funded research is astronomical. A Guardian investigation in 2019 revealed that just 20 of the fossil fuel giants are linked to a third of all greenhouse gas emissions that are compelling the climate crisis today.

Is the reliance on this funding from the fossil fuel sector a failure of the UK government to provide adequate financial support to our universities, or is it the individual university’s responsibility to stop taking seemingly underhand financial support from companies that go against their green ethos? On the other hand, is it more effective for university research and teaching to be funded by such affluent energy giants which in turn furthers innovation and development on sustainable energy sources for the future, thus eventually eliminating the need for the fossil fuel industry as a whole?