Story | Michelle Ong (she/her), Managing Editor
Photo | Joshua Choo (he/him)
Last Monday (Jan. 17), a coalition named Students for a Fossil Free Future (S4F) published a report titled Fossil-Fuelled Universities, detailing extensive links between Singapore’s universities and the fossil fuel industry, as well as its potential impact on the education landscape in Singapore.
The S4F coalition consists of students from the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), and Yale-NUS College.
The coalition also launched its two-week campaign on Monday, with the aim of engaging students, professionals, members of the public, and university leaders in wider discussions about the report’s findings and recommendations.
S4F’s report is a ground-up, independent research effort by over 60 students, alumni, academics, civil society members, and lawyers over the course of three years, according to Shawn Ang, an NTU student and member of the S4F team.
“[This work] testifies to the urgency and severity all of us across generations feel towards the climate crisis,” Mr. Ang said.
Key linkages between universities and the fossil fuel industry highlighted by the report include the areas of finances, management, academia, professional development, and the co-optation of campus spaces.
For example, S4F highlighted that NUS and NTU’s endowment investments both have indirect exposure to fossil fuels. While NUS has a “low single digit” percentage of fossil fuel exposure, equating to at least $59 million, NTU has not reported its fossil fuel exposure. The report also identified that NTU, NUS, SMU, SUTD, Yale-NUS, and Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) each have at least one member in their Board of Trustees who are also senior leaders in fossil fuel companies.
The S4F report also said that such linkages could harm academic freedom, potentially cause conflicts of interest in university management, and send students into a “declining” fossil fuel industry.
The report then recommended that Singapore’s universities divest from fossil fuels, seek sustainable alternatives to linkages with the fossil fuel industry, and implement climate crisis education, over the short, medium, and long term.
Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Yale-NUS, said that the presence of the fossil fuel industry in universities was “deeply troubling” in education efforts around climate change.
He said: “Should those who have profited off of the climate crisis—off of widespread suffering, death, injustice, and mass extinction—play any roles in decisions about education?”
Angel Hsu, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Environment, Energy, and Ecology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, said: “The data is clear: divesting from fossil fuels is critical to achieving necessary and equitable climate action.”
“In this decisive decade, we must pressure both state and non-state actors, including universities in Singapore and beyond, to move towards a renewable future and make climate change action a top priority at their institutions.”
Ang admitted: “As students, we’re constantly worried about backlash, censorship, and reprisal from publicly questioning the status quo. Yet, we press on and dedicate countless hours, weekends, and months of our lives to this, knowing that our short window of time to act to ensure our planet remains habitable is almost gone. We cannot rest without doing everything we can.”
Ning Yiran ‘23, one of the S4F report’s editors, said that since the report’s release, some have questioned the legitimacy and effectiveness of the campaign. She emphasized that individual actions are insufficient to solve climate change problems.
“Many of us, including myself, have personally experienced the struggles involved in changing our lifestyles to extensively reduce our personal carbon footprint. We strongly believe that collective and institutional action will be much more effective than personal attempts to reduce fossil fuel use.”
“Ultimately, we are all finding our own ways to make the world a better place, and Fossil Free represents a vision for a just and equitable post-carbon world that we strongly believe in.”
The S4F campaign follows other youth-led climate and environmental activism efforts last year, including the collective statement “An urgent call from Singaporean youths on the environmental crisis,” released during COP26 in November, and the SG Climate Rally 2021. In the midst of both efforts, fossil fuel divestment was cited as an “urgent” climate action.
As part of the S4F campaign, student organizations across Yale-NUS, NUS, and NTU will be organizing a simultaneous “Wear Blue Day” on Tuesday (Jan. 25) to show support for the recommendations. S4F also plans to engage the community with on-campus community booths on the same day, as well as an online “Universities and Climate Change” event on Jan. 26, meant to facilitate two-way conversations about the report.
Ning reiterated that S4F would like to engage closely with university leaders and stakeholders on the specific recommendations in the report. The coalition hopes to use the short-term recommendations as a starting point for further action.
“Our campaign is only the beginning, and I believe there is much more work in store for us, including strengthening our negotiations with university leaders, learning and engaging in conversation with stakeholders, and continuing to expand our presence and share our message.”