On February 5 Leiden University partook in “Warm Sweater Day”, an annual event that raises awareness about climate disruption by reducing the heating in university buildings and encouraging staff to wear warmer clothes. It is commendable that the university’s leadership is raising the issue of climate disruption, which should be central to the scientific community in the Netherlands.
However we would encourage Leiden to go several steps further and examine its institutional links to companies that cause carbon emissions and profit from other forms of environmental destruction.
Warm Sweater Day foregrounds individual action as a solution to the climate crisis. This year, the dean Carel Stolker even encouraged students and staff to turn down the heating in their own homes. However this obfuscates that addressing the climate crisis requires institutional change.
To this day, ABP, the pension fund of university staff and civil service employees, remains heavily invested in fossil fuel companies, despite a pledge to cut its carbon footprint by 2025. Shell, one of the world’s largest oil companies, is ABP’s 70th largest investment and the fund holds around 582 million Euros of the company’s shares. Recently, it was also revealed that ABP has invested in JBS, Marfrig and Minerva, Brazilian meatpacking companies that are responsible for the destruction of the Amazon forest for intensive cattle grazing.
While the university has no direct mandate over ABP policy, it could and should use its position as a major client to publicly reject ABP’s complicity in the destruction of our planet, especially as part of the VSNU.
And there are other partners. University accounts are managed by Rabobank, a major investor in the bio-industry, scientists at Leiden University work for Shell, and multiple university initiatives have accepted donations from Saudi Aramco, the firm that tops the chart for biggest carbon emitter. The nature and scale of donations from, investments in, and partnerships with destructive industries remains unclear.
Fight climate disruption
Rather than focus on cosmetic campaigns such as Warm Sweater Day that imply that fighting climate disruption is an individual affair, we the undersigned call on the university to prepare a full audit on all its financial ties to fossil fuel companies and other businesses that engage with environmentally destructive practices and to calculate these in the university’s carbon footprint report. This disclosure should be followed by a process of rapid divestment from these firms and pressure on ABP to do the same.
If Leiden University wants to be a place of science and ethics that enables scholars and students to seriously address the biggest problem of our time and future, then it needs to publicly take institutional responsibility and act as an example for Dutch society.
Christian Henderson, Assistant Professor, FGW - LIAS
Judith Naeff, Assistant Professor, FGW - LIAS
Bram Ieven, Assistant Professor, FGW - LUCAS
Elisa da Vía, FGW
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