Fossil fuel funding is key to tackling climate change, says Oxford University Vice-Chancellor
Oxford University received more than £11 million from fossil fuel companies between 2015 and 2020
The new Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford has defended the university’s links to fossil fuel funding arguing the industry has the finances and scientific infrastructure to be part of a solution towards tackling climate change.
At her formal admission ceremony yesterday, Professor Irene Tracey said Oxford University needs “to get serious about climate change”, adding: “I want Oxford to lead in addressing what is now the most pressing issue of our times.”
Prior to her inaugural address, Professor Tracey told PA news agency there needs to be “recognition and engagement” with the fossil fuel industry as they share a mutual interest to move towards green energy to survive as businesses.
“Some of the solutions will have to come from the very industry that’s part of the problem,” she said.
The university has come under fire in the past for its links to fossil fuel companies. Between 2015 and 2020, a group of current and former students published a report which found the university had received more than £11 million from gas, oil and petrochemical companies.
The report also claimed the university had accepted £100 million in 2021 from petrochemical company, Ineos to fund an institute studying antimicrobial resistance, which the group described as a “clear example of greenwashing”.
The research by Oxford University Climate Justice Campaign (OCJC) used a series of freedom of information requests to show the university had also received funding from well-known oil giants such as BP, Shell and Total as well as the China National Petroleum Corporation.
A spokesperson for Oxford University said those donating money “have no influence” over academics or their research. The university “safeguards the independence of its teaching and research programmes” and “researchers publish the results of their work whether the results are seen to be critical or favourable by industry or governments”.
Last year, the student group found the university had accepted more than £1.6 million in funding and donations from fossil fuel companies in 2020/21. When put to the new climate-change tackling Vice-Chancellor, Professor Tracey said: “We have a devolved structure here, so each college can decide on its own disinvestment.
“I’m more interested in how we need to have the conversations with some of these industries.
“It’s less about the money and donations, it’s about, actually, how they need to help us find the solutions and put their resources into helping to find the solutions because they’ve got the resources.
“It’s about recognising that we have to start to think about pragmatic solutions to how we’re going to address this issue and in many ways, maybe we are freer, as a university sector, to do that than governments.”
She also called for pragmatism, arguing: “It’s going to be very difficult to wean off oil in the short term, we can’t just do that tomorrow, we don’t have enough alternative energies to do that.
“So to a certain extent there has to be still that recognition and engagement of that industry, and they’ve also got a great science and engineering base to come up with some of the solutions, they’ve also got the finances to do it.
“So I think it’s about educating our students, having the dialogue, getting real about how we’re going to solve this, and recognising that actually, some of the solutions will have to come from the very industry that’s part of the problem.
“And we’re just going to have to embrace that and get our heads around it.”
Featured image via YouTube.