Undergraduates call on 7 S'pore universities to wean off fossil fuel links

SINGAPORE – A group of students in Singapore is calling on universities here to wean off their links to the fossil fuel sector, amid growing worldwide scrutiny of the ties between institutes of higher learning and that industry.

Members of the Students for a Fossil Free Future, in a 68-page report published on its website on Monday morning (Jan 17), are calling on seven universities here – including the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) – to take steps such as divesting from the fossil fuel industry and discontinuing research funding associated with the sector.

Universities should also not promote jobs in oil, gas or coal sectors at networking or other professional development events, but instead highlight career opportunities in cleaner industries – such as renewable energy sectors – that do not involve the extraction, refinement or other use of fossil fuels, the report highlighted.

“These programmes impress upon students the career viability of the fossil fuel industry. However, the fossil fuel industry is a sunset industry, which may limit medium- to long-term career viability,” said the report.

The main contributors to the report are students from NUS, NTU, SMU and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), said the group’s spokesman, NTU undergraduate Shawn Ang, 23.

But the group also consulted widely and a total of 64 individuals, including undergraduates, university alumni and other professionals, were involved, he added.

The burning of fossil fuels is the main driver of modern climate change.

The use of coal, oil and gas to fuel cities and economies has already caused the planet to warm by 1.1 deg C above pre-industrial levels. Climate scientists have said that global heating should be limited to 1.5 deg C in order to avoid harsher climate impacts, such as rising sea levels and more extreme weather events.

Students around the world have become increasingly vocal about the need to limit warming to this threshold, saying it is their future at stake if the climate crisis is not dealt with today.

Mr Ang said the report aims to shed light on issues beyond finance, such as divestments in fossil fuels.

This is important given not only the financial significance of the fossil fuel industry but also its social influence, he added.

For instance, the report highlighted the ExxonMobil-NUS Research Fellowship, which is sponsored by the oil giant, and the Glencore Scholarship offered at SMU by the commodities firm with stakes in oil and gas.

Oil firm BP has also held a recruitment talk and a personal branding workshop for NTU students, the report noted.

“Given the urgency of the energy transition in the light of the climate crisis… we see our report as a starting point for conversations and imagination around the role that our higher institutions can and should play,” Mr Ang said. “We hope that this will encourage discussion and commitment from our university leaders towards playing a more active role in our nation’s just transition.”

The report delves into the links that seven universities in Singapore, which also include Yale-NUS, the Singapore Institute of Technology, the Singapore Institute of Management and SUTD, have with the fossil fuel sector in four key areas.

Other than finance, the report also looked at academia, such as scholarships funded by fossil fuel firms; professional development, such as networking events attended by oil giants; and the association that fossil fuel companies have with campus spaces.

“Singapore’s Government has banned cigarette companies from sponsoring and publicising corporate social responsibility activities, clearly signalling that an industry whose core business is harmful should not be positively rebranded,” said the students in the report.

On this front, the students cited ExxonMobil’s sponsorship of concerts and conservation programmes at NUS, as well as a mobile fabrication laboratory at SUTD.

Mr Ang said putting together the report involved trawling the Internet, combing partnerships and events pages, annual reports, directories of university management and staffing lists wherever they were available.

“Simultaneously, our members from various universities also combed through internal school portals to detail associations and linkages,” he said.


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