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Collaborating with the fossil fuel industry: report on a dialogue

13 June 2023

How can the UG contribute to accelerating the energy transition? Does this require policy changes? And what role does collaboration with the fossil fuel industry play here? On 23 May, several members of our UG community at the House of Connections discussed these questions. President of the Board of the University Jouke de Vries and Rector Magnificus Cisca Wijmenga came to the Grote Markt to listen to the views of researchers and policy advisors.

Significant contribution

Jouke de Vries opened the conversation: ‘With a view to the energy and climate crises, we must reduce the use of fossil fuels. And, as a University, we want to significantly contribute to the energy transition. The UG will, for instance, no longer conduct research into new oil or gas fields. But policy around the energy transition does have its grey areas.’

Earthquakes

Should the UG cut its fossil ties? That question was the starting point of the conversation. Some attendees want the UG to end its collaboration with the fossil fuel industry. Referring to the earthquake issues the north has faced, they wondered if ‘we want to have our house built by those who tore it down’. Is it morally and ethically justifiable to collaborate with companies that have done so much damage, particularly in this region? The participants were also challenged with this question: how can we be proud of the University and take steps towards a climate-neutral, circular University?

Delayed energy transition

Others pointed at the urgency for collaboration on the energy transition and advised not to end collaboration resolutely. After all, fossil fuel still plays an essential role in the coming decades in each of the future scenarios described by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). A number of researchers is working with knowledge and facilities that exclusively come from the fossil fuel industry, such as large amounts of data and facilities that allow the application of research results on a large scale. Without that knowledge, the energy transition will suffer enormous delays.

Transparency

There was a consensus on the fact that the UG should be transparent about its policy choices and provide clarity about the conditions under which we collaborate: if we cannot (yet) separate ourselves from the fossil fuel industry, we should ensure that we are conducting research aimed at accelerating the energy transition. Conditions for research funding were also discussed. The amount of money for co-financing and certain conditions for grant programmes at this point require collaboration with the fossil fuel industry. That too is a subject which needs further discussion.

Sustainable university

And then there is the question of how sustainable the UG wants to be in its business operations. We have a Green Office and a Sustainability Roadmap, but is our policy adequate if a PhD student is forced to grab a plane because the train ticket is too expensive? These are questions we cannot answer directly, but they do require thought from within the UG community so that we can achieve the broadest possible policy.

Last modified:13 June 2023 09.40 a.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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