This is stated in a proposal from the Executive Board that was discussed in the University Council on Monday. The Board is willing to work with fossil companies that are ‘demonstrably committed to achieving the goals of the Paris climate agreement’.
The goal of the Paris agreement is to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius. EU member states have agreed to reduce the Union’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030.
The decision on whether to cooperate with a company will be made by an ‘assessment committee based on yet-to-be-developed criteria as to whether the intended contribution to the climate goals justifies the cooperation’. Ongoing projects in partnership with the fossil sector that do not meet climate requirements will still be completed.
The Board’s statement was drawn up in response to the debate that took place in Leiden on 27 September on the possible termination of partnerships with the fossil industry. In late November, action group End Fossil occupied two classrooms in Lipsius in an attempt to urge the Board to sever ties with the fossil industry altogether.
The university does not intend to go that far, but instead, plans to assess companies with a sort of climate yardstick. That is problematic, the Board itself admits: because there is currently ‘no widely accepted method for evaluating the contribution of research projects to the Paris goals’. The university is considering using the EU’s so-called Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) as a possible assessment framework.
In its proposal, the Board outlines the consequences of the new policy. For example, in 2022, the university accepted a $100,000 donation from Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, meant for research on Arab history and culture. Such a donation would ‘most likely’ not be possible today. ‘This project will be completed this year and not extended.’
The collaboration with the French company Total Energies for ‘research on quantum algorithms will go down as a case study for the assessment committee’.
HOW TO ASSESS?
The University Council is going to issue an advice on the proposed policy, but was still divided on Monday. Patrick Klaassen of staff party UB did not want to pre-emptively rule out any companies or projects. ‘You have to consider both, per research proposal. Aramco states on its website that it does have the Paris agreement as a goal.’ Whether that is actually true is a different story. ‘Why should such a donation for Humanities not be accepted? And how do you assess whether a project meets the requirements?’
Student party PBMS wants to do that on a case-by-case basis. ‘If a project is harmful, then we shouldn’t do it,’ said faction chair Victor van der Horst. ‘The projects the university has running at the moment are useful. We shouldn’t shy away from research that is important for the transition to clean energy.’
According to Joost Augusteijn (staff party LAG), the Board wants to create space for companies that themselves do not meet the Paris agreement to still be able to propose a project that does meet those requirements. ‘That is inconsistent and odd.’ By contrast, excluding at the partner level is transparent, says Augusteijn. ‘It provides an incentive for companies to comply with the climate goals.’
A majority in the Council is in favour of this approach. The Council did have a consensus on the problematic nature of the assessment committee. ‘How are you going to assess this? What are the criteria?’ asked Femke Spaargaren (PBMS). ‘And how often are we going to check if companies are on the right track?’
The Council found these questions justified. The Board first has to establish clear guidelines on how the assessment committee will investigate. On 12 February, the Council will meet with the Board to discuss the matter.