The University receives research funding and donations from companies and organisations from the fossil fuel sector, typically at an average of ~£3m pa in research funding( < 1% of research turnover) and ~£2m pa in philanthropic donations. These funds are used principally to support researchers and activities aimed at speeding the transition to a net zero carbon future, or to support activities disconnected from fossil fuels (such as research on anti-microbial resistance).
This guidance, approved by University Council on 11 July 2022, outlines how the University, through its Committee to Review Donations and Research Funding (CRDRF), will consider research funding or donation opportunities from companies or individuals linked to the fossil fuel industry.
Funding our leading role in addressing global challenges
Through its teaching, research and innovation, the University can play a leading role in meeting global challenges, not least in decarbonising our planet, but also in global health, new therapies, mental health, artificial intelligence and understanding ourselves and our universe. Our research staff and students are motivated and determined to create new knowledge and develop capabilities to make significant contributions to these challenges. Although our Strategic Research Fund is investing in many of these areas it is only with much more significant external resources that we can hope to mobilise and undertake research on a scale and with impact consistent with the magnitude of the challenges, not least the climate crisis.
Research funding from industry and donations are an increasingly important part of our research funding portfolio. Industrial research funding also provides relationships that can facilitate fast and efficient pathways for insights and technologies to be implemented in practice. The speed of development and implementation of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is a good example.
Fossil fuel companies have large financial and intellectual resources that can be used to speed the transition to a net zero carbon future. Some fossil fuel companies have committed to use these assets at scale to transform themselves to net zero carbon on a quantified timescale, and to create new net zero or negative carbon products and services; others have yet to do so, or only tentatively or unconvincingly.
Given the scale of the net zero carbon challenge, working selectively with those companies who are committing an increasing and meaningful fraction of their resources to decarbonising their products and services could enable the University to contribute positive and impactful ideas and innovations to the climate crisis on a meaningful scale. Appropriate collaborations can help also meet the ambitions of individual researchers and provide them with opportunities for career development, such as research funding, studentship funding, etc.
Nonetheless, any collaboration with fossil fuel companies, even in areas of low or zero carbon research exposes the University to accusations of propagation rather than mitigation of the climate crisis, greenwashing, unconscious positive bias towards such funders, and that funding is being used to exert influence on research and researchers.
- To help mobilise and strengthen the University’s research capabilities, the University will consider research funding or donations from fossil fuel companies or linked entities and individuals for which:
either (i) the use of the research funding or donation within the University has no connection to fossil fuel prospecting or extraction or implications for long term increases in carbon emissions and is focused on delivering societal benefit (for example research on the development of a new cancer therapy);
or (ii) the use of the research funding or donation within the University may have some use connected to the fossil fuel industry but only where the purpose explicitly relates to enabling meaningful accelerations away from carbon usage and speeding the transition to net zero carbon (for example research into the process of transforming an oil major into a global renewable energy company, or carbon capture and storage).
- The research funder or donor should have clearly stated, evidenced and credible plans to achieve net zero carbon by 2050 or sooner, consistent with the Oxford Martin principles, involving:
- A commitment to net-zero emissions
- A profitable net-zero business model
- Quantitative medium-term targets
Prior to acceptance of any relevant proposed research funding or donation, CRDRF will consider the extent to which it meets the criteria in guideline 1 and 2, and whether there is, or is not, an acceptable degree of alignment.
CRDRF will include in its annual report data relating to the number of instances considered under this guidance and the number of each decision outcome (approved or not approved).
A fossil fuel company shall be considered as one engaged in exploration or extraction of oil, coal, tar sands, natural gas, or in fracking; if in doubt, the guidance should be applied.