Climate action group slams ‘one of Oxford’s greenest colleges’ for accepting airline CEO cash

Linacre has said it will only accept the gift if Sovico group adopts a ‘net-zero carbon strategy’


Linacre College’s decision to accept a £155m donation from the Sovico Group has been harshly condemned by the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign.

The student group said it was “disappointed” at the decision to accept a donation from “a company whose fossil fuel extraction threatens our planet’s survival”.

As part of the deal, Linacre will be renamed Thao College after after airline CEO and chairwoman of Sovico group Nguyen Thi Phoung Thao.

 Linacre College has now revealed that a gift agreement will only be signed if “several important conditions are met” by Sovico, such as developing “a net zero carbon strategy by 31st December 2050.”

Speaking to The Oxford Tab after the announcement Linacre was to be renamed, the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign raised concerns about Sovico Group’s environmental record.

This includes working with fossil fuel extraction firms – notably state-controlled Russian oil company Zarubezhneft – on offshore drilling projects. 

Accepting this donation, the OCJC said, has “undermined Oxford’s own academics” and will allow the company “to use Oxford’s reputation to justify the continuation of its own destructive practices”.

“We are sad to hear what Linacre’s actions have told us: that Linacre values money more than it values people and the planet,” OCJC added.

Sovico Group is yet to publish a comprehensive net-zero transition plan and medium-term targets. With no precedent set by fossil fuel extraction or aviation companies, the OCJC “seriously doubt whether Sovico Group’s own promise to become net-zero represents anything other than greenwashing”.

The OCJC demanded full transparency from Linacre, self-styled as “one of Oxford’s greenest colleges”.

Dr Nick Leimu-Brown, Principal of Linacre College, responded to the criticism levelled at the decision. As of yet, no donation has been accepted; the memorandum of understanding signed “lays out the steps to the signing of a gift agreement later in the year.” 

He went on to add that: “Our draft gift agreement specifies a number of break clauses that will enable the college to withdraw if Sovico do not live up to their commitment.” 

“I believe that we have in place robust and transparent checks to make sure that it is not greenwash.” 

The Tab can reveal that, according to the Principal, this memorandum of understanding includes the following demands: 

“The Benefactor (Sovico) and all of its subsidiary companies will develop a net zero carbon strategy by 31st December 2025 to:

  1. Meet various carbon-reducing milestones agreed with the College from time to time;
  2. Report annually on their carbon-reducing progress in line with the recommendations set out from time to time by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures; and
  3. Achieve net zero carbon by 31st December 2025.

The College will provide education and comments to the Benefactor to help them develop and implement their net zero carbon plan.”

Responding to allegations that Sovico Group fail to demonstrate a convincing net zero plan, Dr Leimu-Brown said that Linacre academics and strategists “​​are willing to advise and [are] interested in the challenges that moving Sovico to net zero will encounter”.

Sovico Group has been contacted for comment.

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