Transparency research collaboration fossil industry

Utrecht University acknowledges that there is a climate crisis and that this is one of the biggest challenges we face as a society. We can even speak of a climate emergency in some parts of the world. Utrecht scientists have been sounding the alarm about this for some time and are making important contributions to climate research. Not only do they provide insight into how big the climate crisis is and could become, they also contribute to solutions to turn the tide. We are also working hard to raise awareness and increase sustainability in our education and business operations.

In some areas within the university, we collaborate with the fossil industry for scientific research. Previously, this research sometimes also focused on the exploration of fossil resources, but that has not been the case since at least 15 years. The condition for collaboration with the fossil industry in current research projects is that the research focuses on developing knowledge to accelerate the energy transition, phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible and/or avoid further CO2 emissions.

Conditions for collaboration fossil industry

Whether or not and to what extent collaboration with the fossil industry is desirable, and/or under what conditions, is a question that is alive both in society and within our university. Utrecht University believes it is important to make well-considered decisions on this matter. Therefore, a democratic approach was chosen and two so-called 'deep democracy' sessions were organized for staff and students. The perspectives gathered during these sessions will be used to draw up a clear assessment framework for future decision-making on collaboration with, among others, the fossil industry. See the page Framework for assessing collaborations for an overview of the steps that have been taken so far.

Transparency in collaboration with the fossil industry

In order to make sound decisions, it is also necessary to map out to what extent and in what areas Utrecht University collaborates with the fossil industry. The university considers it important to be transparent about this to the outside world. An overview of all current research projects involving collaboration with the fossil industry has therefore been compiled, which can be found in the caption of figure 2, below. A visual summary of the current research collaborations and explanatory notes can be found under the headings 'Visual summary' and 'Explanation visual summary'.

Explanation visual summary

What do we mean by fossil industry

The use of products made from fossil resources is woven throughout our society. From the clothes we wear to the buildings we work in, they often incorporate products that originated in fossil fuels. Therefore, to determine whether a research project involves collaboration with the fossil industry, the following delineation was used: “Companies with so-called upstream activities: the exploration and extraction of oil and gas.” Collaborations with general chemical and energy companies are not included in this overview.

Only current, ongoing projects are included in this overview. An exception is equipment donations (or money for purchase); those dates relate to the past five years. The overview was prepared with reference date 1 February 2024 and is a snapshot, which will be updated approximately twice per calendar year.

Visual Summary

For all collaborations, the funding can be distinguished in:

  1. the total research budget of the collaboration,
  2. the portion of the research budget paid by the fossil partner(s), and
  3. the portion of the research budget that actually ends up at UU.

Figure 1 shows, for all collaborations added together, the amount that actually ends up at UU and is directly funded by the fossil partner(s). This total amount is € 2.868.242. The total funding for UU research is € 841.897.683. This makes the direct funding from the fossil industry to UU 0.33% of the total budget. In addition, there is indirect funding by the fossil industry via consortia, which amounts to € 2.066.601, or 0.24% of the total budget.

For the sake of transparency, the contribution for the consortia is calculated pro rata. Calculation example: the total research budget of collaboration X is 1 million euros. 100,000 euros is paid by a fossil partner (10%). 300,000 euros comes to the UU. The estimate is that of those 300,000 euros, 10% - ergo 30,000 euros - is paid by the fossil partner.

Figure 2 shows the number of projects by collaboration agreement. This overview (pdf, 131kb), provides more details per research project, organized by the type of collaboration agreement. Click on the red circles in the figure to read an explanation about that specific category.

Figure 3 shows within which research topic the projects fall. Click on the red circles in the figure to read an explanation about that specific category. The donations and the indirect consortium – the DeepNL projects – are not included here for two reasons: the DeepNL research does not involve direct collaboration with the fossil industry. In addition, these are many small subprojects in the same program, which gives a distorted view.

Figure 4 shows the total funding to UU by collaboration agreement. Most of this funding comes from grants and thus not from the fossil partner(s). Click on the red circles in the figure to read an explanation about that specific category.