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Speaker labels fossil fuel companies ‘bad actors’ at Cambridge University’s Sustainability Showcase





The University of Cambridge’s annual Sustainability Showcase included a presentation which outlined the efforts made by the Banking Engagement Forum to stop higher education institutions in the UK from contributing to fossil fuel expansion.

The Banking Engagement Forum was set up at the start of the 2022-23 academic year. It is a collaboration of 68 leading institutions and trusts in UK higher education, including the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, Southampton, St Andrews, Westminster and University College London, to “collaborate on a new effort to create a market for cash products that do not contribute to the financing of fossil fuel expansion”.

Dr Belinda Bell speaking at the University of Cambridge’s annual Sustainability Showcase, left. Above, Beth Simpson and the audience Pictures: University of Cambridge
Dr Belinda Bell speaking at the University of Cambridge’s annual Sustainability Showcase, left. Above, Beth Simpson and the audience                                                                           Pictures: University of Cambridge

​The Forum is chaired by the University’s CFO, and its membership includes representatives from the University, the Endowment, Cambridge University Press & Assessment, the Colleges, the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, and the student body. It has no delegated authority – all decisions go through the University’s governance structures.

Speaking at Storey’s Field Centre, Dr Belinda Bell, co-director of Finance for Environmental and Social Systemic Change at the Department of Land Economy, addressed the money behind fossil fuel exploration and the levers that institutions such as the University of Cambridge hold to discourage financial institutions from financing new fossil fuel projects.

The audience at the University of Cambridge’s annual Sustainability Showcase, June 2024. Picture: University of Cambridge
The audience at the University of Cambridge’s annual Sustainability Showcase, June 2024. Picture: University of Cambridge

She said: “Despite scientific and policy consensus that no fossil fuel expansion projects are required, many are taking place, locking in emissions for decades to come. The majority of the money that goes into fossil fuel expansion comes from banks.

“We can’t stop fossil fuel companies – they are bad actors, but we can try to stop them from getting the money to do these things. Legitimate actors such as Cambridge can use the power of their banking relationships to feed into their other climate commitments.

Dr Sally Pidgeon, head of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge
Dr Sally Pidgeon, head of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Cambridge. Picture: University of Cambridge

“At Cambridge, the Banking Engagement Forum is coordinating a project in which 68 higher education institutions are seeking financial services products that do not contribute to the expansion of fossil fuels – in particular, new coal- and gas-fired plants which lock in demand for decades. The intention is to manage money in a way that doesn’t contribute to the financing of fossil fuel expansion.”

The university is committed to a programme of continual environmental improvement, including a carbon reduction target of energy-related emissions to absolute zero by 2048, with a decrease of 75 per cent on 2015 emissions by 2030.

The University of Cambridge’s 2024 Sustainability Showcase took place at Storeys Field, Eddington in June. Picture: University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge’s 2024 Sustainability Showcase took place at Storeys Field, Eddington in June. Picture: University of Cambridge

Beth Simpson, student engagement coordinator at Cambridge Zero, spoke about how the university organisation works “to upskill and empower students at the university via their co-curricular climate education programmes, training and competitions, including the Climate Challenge”.

The Climate Challenge is Cambridge Zero’s early-stage climate entrepreneurship training programme and competition for postgraduate and postdoctoral students at the university.

Jerrell Ong, MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development, speaking at the University of Cambridge’s annual Sustainability Showcase. Picture: University of Cambridge
Jerrell Ong, MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development, speaking at the University of Cambridge’s annual Sustainability Showcase. Picture: University of Cambridge

She introduced MPhil students who are hoping to change the world with their start-up ideas.

The speakers included Jerrell Ong (MPhil in engineering for sustainable development), who spoke about terracotta cooling, his team’s innovative solution to reduce emissions and resource use in data centres in the Global South. Using a locally-inspired terracotta ‘beehive’ structure and air flow optimisation, terracotta cooling’s model would slash the immense energy costs and water usage normally associated with cooling large data centres, particularly in hotter climates in countries like India.



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