The University of Cambridge commits to full divestment by 2030

The announcement follows campaigns from both Cambridge Zero Carbon and Extinction Rebellion Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has committed to full divestment from the fossil fuel industry, in an announcement today from the Vice-Chancellor, Stephen Toope. The university will remove all direct and indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry from its £3.5bn endowment fund by 2030 and will not accept funding from sources that are incompatible with its sustainability ambitions.

Plans have also been outlined to divest from any public equity managers focused on “conventional energy” by the end of this year, and to “allocate significant capital” to renewable energy by 2025. The University’s commitment represents one of the biggest divestment commitments from a Higher Education institution to date.

This signifies a historic break with the fossil fuel industry that Cambridge has until now been heavily linked to, holding close financial and research ties with BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and other fossil fuel companies. In 2000, oil-giants BP donated £22 million to the University to found the BP institute, with the CEO later publicly urging the University not to divest, stating “we donate and do lots of research at Cambridge so I hope they come to their senses on this”. 

The University’s ties to fossil fuel companies, such as BP, have long been a source of tension (Photo credits: Zero Carbon)

The long-awaited decision comes as a product of campaigns from Cambridge Zero Carbon and Extinction Rebellion Cambridge. The former ‘s five-year divestment campaign has been led by students at the University, and their action kick-started today’s decision with a motion in 2019 – supported by 324 Cambridge academics – that called on the university to produce fully-costed strategies for divestment. As a result of the subsequent divestment report, authored by Dr Ellen Quigley, Emily Bugden, and Cambridge Chief Financial Officer Anthony Odgers, Cambridge’s Investment Office came to the decision to fully divest by 2030. 

More recently, Extinction Rebellion Cambridge’s ‘No More Excuses’ campaign of non-violent direct action against the University involved various graffiti incidents and demonstrations, a naked die-in at King’s, and a giant game of croquet on Senate House lawn.

Announcing the move in his annual address to the University today, Toope said: “The University is responding comprehensively to a pressing environmental and moral need for action with an historic announcement that demonstrates our determination to seek solutions to the climate crisis. We will approach with renewed confidence our collaborations with government, industry and research partners around the world as together we work for a zero-carbon future.”

In a press release, the Cambridge Zero Carbon Campaign commented: “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.”

Zero Carbon’s activism has gathered huge attention in recent years, both locally and in the national press (Photo credits: Zero Carbon)

The University’s decision has been applauded by a number of notable environmental activists with Bill McKibben, author of a dozen books about the environment, and founder of climate campaign group, stating: “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.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, agrees: “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… 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.”

In response to this announcement, Robert Macfarlane, author and fellow of Emmanuel College said: “Finally, the voices of those speaking out for climate justice have been listened to and acted on. 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.”

Cambridge Zero Carbon agrees that today’s announcement is just the start of a long road towards climate justice:  “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.”

The work of Zero Carbon is not over yet (Photo credits: Zero Carbon)

For students inspired by the university’s announcement and the work of Zero Carbon, there has never been a better time to get involved. More information on the campaign and resources related to divestment can be found here and you can follow their Facebook page and Twitter, for more updates and information on meetings.

Featured image credit: Zero Carbon Cambridge