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Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Cambridge varsity commits to divest from fossil fuel industry

After a five-year battle over its response to the climate crisis, the University of Cambridge has committed to remove all direct and indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry from its £3.5 billion endowment fund by 2030. The Cambridge University Endowment Fund (CUEF) is said to be the largest of any higher education institution in Europe. 

Cambridge University
Cambridge University

Cambridge has also outlined plans to divest from any public equity managers focused on “conventional energy” by December 2020, and to “allocate significant capital” to renewable energy by 2025. 

During his start of term livestream address on October 1, the Vice Chancellor announced that Cambridge will be divesting from fossil fuels and not accept funding from sources that are incompatible with its sustainability ambitions.

The decision marks a major break with the energy sector; Cambridge has held close financial and research ties with BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and other fossil fuel companies for at least 20 years. 

In March 2019, members of the student-led divestment campaign, Cambridge Zero Carbon, coordinated a democratic motion backed by 324 Cambridge academics calling on the University to produce fully-costed strategies for divestment. In response, the University commissioned a report authored by Dr Ellen Quigley, Emily Bugden, and Cambridge Chief Financial Officer Anthony Odgers. 

As a result of the divestment report, Cambridge’s Investment Office has come to the decision to remove their investments from fossil fuels across all asset classes by 2030.

Cambridge Zero Carbon Campaign said: “This is a historic victory for the divestment movement. After decades of close collaboration with the fossil fuel industry, Cambridge University has been forced to concede to divestment demands put forward by student and staff campaigners. This sends a resounding signal to BP, Shell, and ExxonMobil: no more will Cambridge University profit from the companies who have decimated frontline communities, bankrolled misleading climate science, lobbied against environmental regulations, while continuing to explore for oil even as the planet burns.

“This announcement comes five years too late and we’ll be pushing for the 2030 commitment to be brought forward. Last year, we exposed the extensive entanglement of the fossil fuel industry within the workings of the University, well beyond their investments. By continuing to take research funding, invite them to careers fairs and name their buildings after these companies, the University is clearly still in the oily clutches of this dirty industry. We will be campaigning to end all ties.”

Robert Macfarlane, author and fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge: “This landmark divestment decision by Cambridge University is the direct result of five years of campaigning work by students and staff. Finally, the voices of those speaking out for climate justice have been listened to and acted on. We welcome this declaration by the University. But as climate fires rage across the American west and Arctic sea-ice extent hits new lows, this must be only the beginning of a wide-scale severing of Cambridge’s ties with the fossil fuel industry, and further public recognition of how the immiseration caused by the climate crisis falls most heavily upon the most vulnerable.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavillion: “This is brilliant news and another example of how students are the ones showing real leadership on climate action. More than half of UK universities have now divested from fossil fuels and I’m delighted that Cambridge is the latest to join their ranks. This is thanks to all those students who’ve kept up the pressure on the University Endowment Fund because they recognise the huge damage fossil fuels are doing to the climate and the planet. They put to shame the Government which is still using public money to support fossil fuel projects overseas, a policy which must end if we are to have any credibility as hosts of the UN climate summit next year.”

Bill McKibben, author of the first popular book on climate change and founder of 350.org: “From Newton to Darwin to Rosalind Franklin, Cambridge University has always been at the forefront of human understanding of the world around us. With this announcement, the product of hard work over many years by hundreds of devoted campaigners, the University finally puts its money where its brains are, acknowledging the overwhelming threat the fossil fuel industry poses to the planet’s climate. Among many other important outcomes, one hopes that this bold action will shame the University founded by a Cambridge alumnus into belated action.”

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