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Time’s Up: Oxford Student Union’s latest climate justice demands

Olivia Boyle reports.

The Oxford University Student Union has renewed its push for climate action with its latest set of sustainability demands to the University. These aim to tackle widespread collegiate inaction in addressing the climate crisis and give governing bodies until March 2023 to act.

The SU is calling for each college to adopt a target of net zero carbon and biodiversity gain by 2035 at the latest, and appropriately reorganise governance to allow for sufficient time devoted to the project. They must also form sustainability committees with suitable student representation and be publicly transparent by publishing comprehensive strategies and full annual progress reports.

In the past, college level commitment to climate action has been limited. As it stands, Mansfield and Hertford have publicly committed to a 2030 net zero target, with St Edmund Hall releasing a sustainability strategy earlier this year. Divestment from fossil fuels is similarly underwhelming with only 6 colleges cooperating directly with the central university and out of the rest, a minute number (Balliol, Somerville, Trinity and St Anne’s) have committed perfunctorily to fossil fuel divestment.

Anna-Tina Jashapara, VP Charities and Community recognised the responsibility of the colleges “as institutions with considerable power and resources”. Some colleges, of course, are less equipped to initiate an immediate change but Oxford SU make it clear that the college contributions fund will continue to offer support. 

The SU’s demands highlight that even wealthy institutions such as Oxford University, which has a £5.06bn endowment, still have a long way to go before reaching carbon neutrality and fossil fuel divestment. Mirroring the stark apathy of the Global North and the richest, most powerful nations both attending and abstaining from COP-27, colleges have been largely inactive for three years despite the University’s commitment to fossil fuel divestment in 2020. 

Following the general theme of inaction, COP-27 ended on 18th November. Nevertheless, the SU’s actions herald a renewal of commitment to public, clear-cut change making. Meanwhile, the demands are fully supported by the Decarbonise Oxford campaign, Oxford Climate Justice Campaign, and Oxford Climate Society, inciting student-led involvement and action. At present, it is largely students who are holding their colleges accountable for climate action. CLOC, for example, is the student-founded points-based system that grades individual colleges’ climate action and provides clear evidence of university-wide inaction.

The Oxford SU demands that responsibility is taken publicly by everyone; there are no colleges, staff members, faculties, departments or students who are exempt from the impact of climate change. So these are the people who must take action for climate justice. Action Director at OCS, Esme McMillan, reminds us that now is the time to ensure “our planet is liveable for all present and future generations.”

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