Next step in the framework for assessing collaborations with the fossil industry

Over the past few months, there has been much discussion in society and within Utrecht University about collaborations with the fossil industry. Thanks to input from staff members and students, the Executive Board has now decided on the principles for the framework for assessing such collaborations.

The guiding principle is that Utrecht University will only enter into research collaborations with fossil companies and organizations if they are intensively and demonstrably committed to accelerating the energy transition, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement. This line will be further concretized after Summer - again together with staff and students - to provide clear guidelines for research, teaching and activities of student associations.

See which steps have been taken to arrive at these principles.

The more concrete, the better

For research collaborations, there will be two tracks:

1.       Expanding the checklist

Since 2019, Utrecht University has used a checklist to assess research collaborations in terms of ethical dilemmas and conflicts of interest. In consultation with (scientific) experts, the existing checklist will be expanded with clear and verifiable criteria to critically assess collaborations with fossil companies and organizations.

It will be assessed whether or not the potential funder/partner demonstrably endorses the Paris Climate Agreement and is intensively committed to the acceleration of the energy transition. It will also be assessed whether or not collaboration with a fossil partner is necessary (or whether or not a more sustainable partner is also possible) and whether or not the project will contribute to accelerating the energy transition.

2.       Review Committee

In addition, the Executive Board is going to establish an internal ethical review committee - consisting of various disciplines - to advise on complex issues. For example, if the checklist does not make clear whether or not a partner is intensively and demonstrably committed to accelerating the energy transition. This committee will maintain a register of sustainability efforts of a fixed set of partners. This register will form the basis for judgement.

What do we mean with fossil industry?

The use of products made from fossil resources is interwoven throughout our society. From the clothes we wear to the buildings we work in, they often incorporate products that originated from fossil fuels. Therefore, in order to determine whether a research project involves collaboration with the fossil industry, the following delineation was used: "Companies that produce oil or other fossil fuels themselves, or chemical companies with a strong affinity for the production of fossil fuels."