The new vice-chancellor of Oxford University said the role of the fossil fuel industry in the global green energy transition needs to be “recognised and included”.
Professor Irene Tracey wants the university to be a leader in what she calls “the most pressing problem of our time.”
At the opening ceremony at the Sheldonian Theater on Tuesday, he announced the University of Oxford’s intention to become an interdisciplinary research center for finding climate solutions.
But he stressed the need to include scientific expertise and financial support from oil companies, he told the PA news agency.
It also said it would conduct an independent pay and working conditions analysis for university staff after several days of strikes in November and continued non-strike actions, such as contracting and refusing to volunteer.
In his speech before his speech, he said that discussions with students are ongoing about the need to establish relationships with former energy companies.
In response to a student report released last year that found the university had received more than £1.6m in funding and donations from fossil fuel companies in one financial year, he said: his own lack of investment.
“I am more interested in how we should engage in dialogue with some of these industries.
“More than money and donations, it’s really about how they should help us find solutions and how they spend resources to help find solutions because they have the resources.
“It’s about recognizing that we need to start thinking of pragmatic solutions for how to tackle this issue, and in many ways, perhaps as a university sector, we are more free than governments to do that.
“As a result, it will be very difficult to give up oil in the short term, we can’t do it tomorrow, we don’t have enough alternative energy to do it.
“So, to some extent, this industry’s recognition and involvement must continue, and they also have a great science and engineering foundation to come up with some solutions, but also have the funding to do it.
“I think it’s about educating our students, having a dialogue, being realistic about how we’re going to solve this, and recognizing that some of the solutions that are actually part of the problem must come from industry.
“And we’re going to have to embrace that and get our heads around it.”
The University of Oxford’s guide to accepting and funding fossil fuel donations says that such money should only be received “when the purpose is clearly related to providing meaningful accelerations from carbon use and accelerating the transition to net zero carbon”.
Professor Tracey also spoke about Oxford University’s role in solving the global problem of disinformation and mistrust of expertise.
While he believes the scientific achievements and knowledge provided during the pandemic are helping to reverse this trend, there is still much more to be done.
“Education and communication are key.
“One of the things we’ve been working really hard on at Oxford is to get our young scientists to learn how to communicate with different audiences and have that public engagement so you clarify the process.
“You’re also helping people understand that just because scientists change their minds or actually say we’re thinking about it now doesn’t mean they’re dangerous or illegal or that they’re getting it wrong all the time.
“We can probably only solve these problems by uncovering the right information and continuing to extract that information and perhaps continue to present it in different ways.”