Campus 20 April 2023 comments 2

VU Amsterdam breaks from fossil fuel industry – mostly

The executive board has announced that VU Amsterdam will no longer be collaborating with fossil fuel companies for research, unless they commit themselves to the energy transition. It is now the first university in the country to take this step, and possibly the second in the world.

VU Amsterdam will now only commit to research partnerships with energy companies that are committed – demonstrably and in the short-term – to the energy transition that is stipulated by the Paris Agreement. However, currently ongoing research will be allowed to finish.

The announcement was made by president of the executive board Mirjam van Praag, in front of an audience of many of the involved parties that have debated the decision for months.

Setting the tone

Van Praag says that VU Amsterdam has already been very reluctant about new research partnerships with fossil fuel companies, but that this was still insufficient. That is why it will now be the first university in the Netherlands to cease new research collaborations with fossil fuel companies, although UvA announced a moratorium in February.

According to Van Praag the decision by VU Amsterdam has set the tone for other universities, many of which face the same choice. Niels Debonne of Scientist Rebellion, who pleaded for breaking with fossil fuel companies, lauds that VU Amsterdam is the second university in the world to make this decision, after Princeton.

Implementation team and dialogue

There are still many steps to be taken, says chief impact officer Davide Ianuzzi. The official announcement will function as a blueprint for an implementation team to work out exactly how the university will deliver on its promise.

Meanwhile the university has announced it will establish a nation-wide platform for various leaders, employers, stakeholders and regulators to engage in dialogue about the theme. Van Praag says that ABP and Shell are among the parties who are interested in participating. She adds that the latter was not happy with the university's decision to cease new research collaborations.

Focused approach

After making the announcement, audience members posed questions about what is and isn't included in the decision. For instance, will this decision affect companies that use a lot of fossil fuels without producing it, such as Tata Steel? But it was made clear that the university is strictly focusing on fossil fuel companies for now, although the specifics still have to be ironed out by the implementation team.

As for what would happen to currently ongoing research: they will be allowed to finish, because "Interrupting it now would be a disaster for the people involved." A question is also asked about other ties to fossil fuel companies that aren't related to research, like teachers from the industry or events. "We've asked our deans to be very critical, but I don't think there are many, or even any events promoting fossil fuels", responds rector Jeroen Geurts.

Activist response

Scientist Rebellion has responded positively to the news. “I am incredibly proud to work for a university that dares to take its responsibility”, says Dr. Niels Debonne of Science Rebellion. SRVU Student Union is similarly positive: “SRVU hopes other educational institutions in the Netherlands will follow the example of VU Amsterdam”.

Nour Khamis
IMAGE: Scientist Rebellion

{ Read the 2 comments}

Door Hans C Ossebaard op 24 April 2023
I am proud to be part of a VU community that dares to act, and to responsibly parttake, in the greatest transtion of our times. Summa cum laude. To be continued...
Door John Reijmer op 08 May 2023
Greenwashing 2.0. This decision is merely an act on paper that will not support any action needed to make the necessary steps towards an energy transition supported by the majority.


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