More than 500 leading academics and climate experts from over 125 universities have signed an open letter calling on universities to cut research ties with the fossil fuel industry.
The letter is addressed to institutions in the United States and the UK and the signatories include former President Mary Robinson, multiple IPCC authors, Nobel Peace Prize recipients, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, and university chancellors.
Campaign group Fossil Free Research organised the letter which cites the fossil fuel industry's extensive record of spreading climate disinformation, anti-climate lobbying, and refusal to align its core business practices with the demands of climate science.
It calls for an end to partnering with the fossil fuel industry for research aimed at addressing the climate crisis which it argues the industry created and continues to perpetuate.
It contends that these partnerships create clear conflicts of interest that dangerously compromise academic freedom and risk distorting such research in favour of the industry’s reckless agenda.
"For climate research to be truly in the public good, it must be free from the ties of the special interest groups that put us here in the first place," said signatory Dr Jacquelyn Gill, Associate Professor of Paleoecology and Plant Ecology at the University of Maine, in the US.
The authors say they would like to see higher education institutions everywhere cut research ties with fossil fuel companies but for today they have concentrated on the United States and the UK because those two countries have some of the most well-resourced and prestigious universities in the world.
The letter alleges that university research partnerships with fossil fuel companies play a key role in greenwashing these companies’ reputations, providing them with much-needed scientific and cultural legitimacy.
It argues the practise gives a veneer of credibility greatly aiding fossil fuel companies’ attempts to misrepresent themselves as sustainability leaders by helping to distract from their minimal investments in renewables and overwhelming investments in further fossil fuel development.
"Our universities must be climate leaders, not climate laggards. That means refusing to lend their reputations to fossil fuel industry greenwashing and ensuring the integrity of research that shapes public discourse and policymaking on the urgently needed energy transition," said signatory Peter Kalmus of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the UCLA Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering.
The letter points to prohibitions on tobacco industry funding for public health research saying these provide a model for the proposed ban which would also build on the efforts of a growing number of higher education, scientific and cultural institutions to sever ties with the fossil fuel industry.