Cambridge University temporarily halts funding from fossil fuel companies

A report found that donations from oil and gas companies posed a ‘high reputational risk’ for the university


Cambridge University has temporarily halted donations from fossil fuel companies due to concerns of how it will impact the institution’s high research reputation.

It was confirmed to the Financial Times on Monday 18th March that a moratorium has been placed on new funding from fossil fuel giants such as Shell and BP. The university said the suspension has been implemented with “regard to its commitment to address climate change through a transition to a zero carbon world.”

The measure was taken after a report by former UN climate change envoy Nigel Topping warned of the “high reputational risk” associated with Cambridge’s funding from fossil fuel companies, recommending cutting ties with them in a move towards renewable energy companies.

It was stated in the independent report that 5.1 per cent of philanthropic and research funding at the University of Cambridge is sourced through donations from industrial partners. Averaging at £3.3 million per annum over the last six years, fossil fuel funding reportedly amounts to 0.4 per percent of research/philanthropy funding and 0.1 per cent of overall university income.

According to FT analysis of data, the British oil and gas companies Shell and BP have donated a sum of £19.7 million to the university in philanthropic and research funding between the years 2016 and 2023.

James Scott-Warren, a climate activist and literature professor at Cambridge commented: “Accepting funding from fossil fuel companies validates the industry at a time when it is threatening the future viability of life on earth, including by developing new oil and gas infrastructure.”

Third year undergraduate and Cambridge Climate Justice campaigner Vedika Mandapati said: “The University has set international precedents in tackling greenwashing with this decision – it would be untenable for the University’s reputation and position as a global leader if the principles of the moratorium were to be reversed.”

Placards tied to the railings of Old Schools (Image credits: Cambridge Climate Justice)

Both Shell and BP have supported research at Cambridge into carbon capture and storage. The technologies, which aim to facilitate a transition to cleaner energy, have been criticised by some experts who claim they distract from the goal of cutting emissions.

While Shell claims its investment in the university over the past three years has been focused on the move to cleaner energy, BP said that it has not been involved in the oil and gas side of university research in the last five years.

A Shell spokesperson has commented:“Shell UK has a long-standing and valued relationship with the University of Cambridge and since 2021 all of our work together has been entirely focused on the energy transition.

“Our work with academic partners aims to accelerate the energy transition by bringing together the brightest minds, with the right resources behind them, as well as the commercial ability to scale-up and implement new solutions fast enough to make a difference.

“Shell has a target to become a net-zero emissions energy business by 2050, delivering more value with less emissions through a strategy which balances providing energy security today with investing in the low-carbon energy solutions of the future.”

The University of Cambridge and BP have been contacted for comment.

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