On 18 July 2023, a second dialogue table took place concerning collaboration between the UG and the fossil fuel industry. The meeting, which was held at Bernoulliborg and was attended by students, researchers, and PhD students, was led by Professor of Physics Caspar van der Wal. An important conclusion was that it is important to keep up the discussion on a wide scale, and that transparency concerning collaboration with the fossil fuel industry is essential.
In order to have conversations, clarity on definitions is first needed. What do we mean by ‘fossil fuel industry’? Do we mean companies that exclusively produce fossil energy and emit CO2, or do we also mean companies which process semi-finished fossil products into countless finished products, ranging from chairs and clothing to car tires? It is clear to everyone that, for the time being, we cannot go without. Where should we draw the line? Consider, for example, that we would completely stop collaboration with the fossil fuel industry—should we then also stop collaboration with companies that are supplied by the fossil fuel industry?
Is it even possible to not collaborate with the fossil fuel industry? Or is collaboration in fact the most efficient way of realizing change, by feeding the industry scientific insights? Would that be sleeping with the devil, and should we actually be freeing ourselves from our dependence on the fossil fuel industry, or do we actually really need the fossil fuel’s expertise and data for our research? There are more questions than answers, but attendants all agreed on one thing: universities, and therefore also the UG, must be transparent about who they collaborate with and why.
Openness and transparency are valuable for discussion. Universities have a duty to present the facts. Information is currently lacking, for example about the type, scale, and size of collaboration with the fossil fuel industry. Such information should be accessible to everyone. A good start has been made with the following website, which shows the parties in the fossil fuel industry with which universities are collaborating: www.mappingfossilties.org.
It would be good to regulate collaboration within a framework which clearly states what problems occur if we act outside of this framework. What influence is a company allowed to have on research projects? How do we decide what to include in our framework, and what not? And do we, for example, need an ethical advisory committee with representatives from the entire UG community? The guidelines that apply should be communicated to the outside world in an open and transparent manner. The same transparency should apply to what research results are used for: Open Science, that is.
The Board of the University would like to thank those who participated in both dialogue tables. The insights and opinions that were shared during the discussions are valuable input for the further development of our policy concerning collaboration with the fossil fuel industry.
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