Academic Engagement with Energy Industries

This hybrid symposium, organised by the Utrecht Young Academy and Scientists4Future NL, will address ethical and operational questions regarding academic engagement with energy industries with perspectives from experts who have closely studied this topic.

DateTuesday 21 September, 10.00-13.00
Utrecht University, Drift 25, room 102
Entrance from Library, Drift 27, 3512 BR Utrecht

RegistrationPlease register here


  • Gert Jan Kramer, Geosciences, Utrecht University
  • Ellen Quigley, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, University of Cambridge
  • Behnam Taebi, Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft U. of Technology

Discussion with audience, with the participation of:

  • Vatan Hüzeir, Fossil Free Netherlands / Sociology, Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Lysanne van der Lem, Sustainability program manager, Utrecht University
  • Femke Sleegers, Social Tipping Point Coalition


  • Laura van Oers, Geosciences, Utrecht University


Collaborations between academic institutes, governments, and energy industries have helped to secure the energy demands over the past decades. However, the negative impacts of fossil fuel emissions on climate and society have made it clear that dependence on this energy source is not sustainable. The need to move towards sustainable energy and a circular economy has become apparent. While many academic institutions aim to address this challenge by pursuing a constructive collaboration with all partners from the energy industry, an increasing group of academics have argued that some of these partners do not do enough to reduce fossil fuel production and net CO2 emissions [1,2,3]. Several divestment initiatives have been launched at leading universities inside and outside the Netherlands [4], with the aim of speeding up the energy transition and bring it in line with scientific recommendations. As part of these on-going developments, further questions have arisen on the reach of responsibilities that fossil fuel industries have for emissions arising from their operations, by their contractors, or from their products (scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, respectively) [5]. Addressing these questions requires a discussion between academics in the natural sciences (physics, geoscience), the social sciences (economics, sociology, law), and the humanities (ethics, history).

Some ethical and operational questions raise themselves in this context. For example:

– In what ways could academics engage with fossil fuel industries to address societal needs for energy transition?

– Under which conditions should academic institutes consider divesting their financial and intellectual resources from industries that are heavily invested in fossil fuel energies?

– What is the optimal way in which a university should report its engagement efforts to the public?

– To what extent does engagement with energy industries affect the role of universities in educating young generations for a sustainable society?

In this symposium, we aim to articulate these questions and hear on different perspectives from experts who have closely studied this topic in their academic work.


10.00-10.30:     Opening statements by invited speakers

10.30-11.00:     Panel discussion with speakers

11.00-11.15:     Break

11.15-11.45:     Q&A with audience

11.45-12.15:    Discussion with Vatan Hüzeir, Lysanne van der Lem, and Femke Sleegers

12.15-12.30:    Concluding remarks by speakers

Gert Jan Kramer is professor of Sustainable Energy Supply Systems at Utrecht University and chairman of the Sustainable Industry Lab. His research focuses on technology assessment and energy system modeling; he has a special interest in the process of the energy transition in the Netherlands, specifically how it might transform the Dutch industry portfolio. Prior to coming to Utrecht in 2016 he worked as researcher for new energies in Shell, lastly as manager energy futures, a role in which he helped lay the foundations of Shell’s New Energies business.

Ellen Quigley is a Senior Research Associate in Climate Risk & Sustainable Finance at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) and the Advisor to the Chief Financial Officer (Responsible Investment), both at the University of Cambridge. She works on the mitigation of climate change and inequality through the investment policies and practices of institutional investors. She hold a PhD in economics education from the University of Cambridge. Her recent work on Universal Ownership won the GRASFI Paper Prize for Potential Impact on Sustainable Finance Practices in 2020.

Behnam Taebi is Professor of Energy & Climate Ethics and Scientific Director of the Safety & Security Institute at Delft University of Technology. His research interests are in energy ethics, nuclear ethics, responsible innovation and engineering ethics. Taebi was further affiliated with Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. He was a member of The Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the OECD Expert Group on ‘Transdisciplinary Research for Addressing Global Challenges’.


[1] Quigley, E., E. Bugden, and A. Odgers. 2020. “Fossil Fuel Divestment: Advantages and Disadvantages for the University of Cambridge” Cambridge, UK.

[2] Climate letter by Dutch academics. 2019. Supported by the 14 Dutch universities united in the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU).

[3] “The fossil fuel industry’s invisible colonization of academia”, Benjamin Franta and Geoffrey Supran

[4] Persbericht – Nederlandse wetenschap: “ABP, divesteer uit fossiele industrie”. 2021. Press release – Dutch science: “ABP (biggest Dutch pension fund), divest from the fossil industry”. Endorsed by all Young Academies of Dutch universities

[5] The Hague District Court, Judgment of 26 May 2021. The Hague District Court has ordered Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) to reduce the CO2 emissions of the Shell group by net 45% in 2030, compared to 2019 levels, through the Shell group’s corporate policy.