Cambridge students rally for Fossil Free Research

‘Our house is on fire, and the University of Cambridge is funded by the arsonists’

Cambridge Climate Justice held a rally on the 3rd of May demanding the university end research ties with the fossil fuel industry. This action was in collaboration with the Cambridge SU ethical affairs campaign and End Fossil: Occupy!, a campaign to end fossil fuel ties at a global level.

This rally is especially pertinent as Nigel Topping, Global Ambassador for the UNFCCC, is currently drafting a report for the University regarding its ties to the fossil fuel industry, to which CCJ and the Ethical Affairs Campaign have made an evidence submission. Mr Topping has also consulted with students at three student focused meetings over the Easter break.

The campaign for Fossil Free Research began in 2022, when dozens of Cambridge academics signed an international open letter for Fossil Free research. 84 academics have since submitted a Grace in favour of Fossil Free Research to the University Council, who have the ability to authorise it for a non-binding vote by the Regent House, the governing body of the University. However, this Grace was not authorised by the University, who instead pledged to commission a report in October 2022, naming Nigel Topping as its author in February of this year.

This saga of delays has caused frustration amongst students and members of the wider community, who have accused the University of ‘kicking the issue into the long grass’.

(Image credits: Felix Armstrong for Cambridge Climate Justice)

The rally held in front of Senate House featured a number of speeches from climate campaigners from across the University and beyond. The speakers emphasised the fossil fuel industries ties to colonialism, how big oil funding will encourage big oil research, and the delays plaguing the campaign at the hands of the University.

Sam Gee, Fossil Free Research Steering Committee member, condemned the University for deeming companies such as BP “an appropriate partner for research” after reading an excerpt from documentary filmmaker Jessy Kelly’s article on Iraqi Ali Hussein Aloud, a young man who died from leukaemia. Ali lived in the modern sacrifice zone of Rumaila, a horrifyingly dangerous place to live where BP’s gas flaring casts carcinogens into local communities. A minute of silence was held for all victims of the fossil fuel crisis such as Ali, and victims of the climate crisis.

Sam giving his speech to the attendees (Image credits: Felix Armstrong for Cambridge Climate Justice)

Attendees of the rally joined in and chanted, with some handing out leaflets to members of the public. The chants included “people’s homes are burning to ash, say no to fossil fuel cash” and shouts of “Schlumberger, go away!”

Speaking to The Tab, organiser Mia Eldor-Levy emphasised the importance of compassion and empathy in the fight against the climate crisis. They noted it is easy to “forget what we are fighting for” as well as a need for transparency from the University on such issues. Eldor-Levy goes on to note that “part of our demand is for universities be more transparent. I think that’s a big part of what we’re fighting for: we want to understand where our money is going, what the money is being used for, who is funding what.”

To close the rally, organiser Mia Eldor-Levy read an extract from Mikaela Loach’s book, advocating for hope to be an active stance. She spoke about the immense impact student groups have had on the University’s climate position so far, particularly with reference to the divestment movement.  “We’ve seen that change can happen, and this means that we will and can cut all fossil fuel ties. Our uni will be fossil fuel free!”

The rally then ended on a positive note, as attendees and organisers joined together outside of Senate House to commemorate the rally with a photo.

When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for the University stated the following: “Work is ongoing on the independent study authored by Nigel Topping, the UK government’s High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26, and as part of his research he has just hosted two well-attended all-staff and student meetings.”

BP and Schlumberger have been contacted for comment. 

Featured Image Credits: Felix Armstrong for Cambridge Climate Justice