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Jesus College is latest at University of Cambridge to commit to full divestment from fossil fuels

Jesus College will fully divest from fossil fuel investments by 2022 as part of new plans to tackle climate change.

Wall of wisteria on First Court, Jesus College. Picture: Geoff Robinson Photography
Wall of wisteria on First Court, Jesus College. Picture: Geoff Robinson Photography

The University of Cambridge college divested from direct investments in fossil fuels in 2019, and the commitment to offload all indirect investments by 2022 is “one part of its Responsible Investment initiative, in which the college aims to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions in its financial investments by 2038,” said a spokesperson for Jesus College.

The college has also announced that it will aim to reduce Scope 1 – greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with fuel combustion in boilers, furnaces, vehicles – and Scope 2 carbon emissions (GHG emissions associated with the purchase of electricity, steam, heat, or cooling) to net zero by 2030. In addition, Jesus College “will allocate at least £2million to invest in funds that focus on environmental improvements and climate change”.

Dr Ellen Quigley, advisor to the chief financial officer of the University of Cambridge on Responsible Investment and a Jesus College postdoctoral associate, said: “This policy sets a new standard. Simply put, it’s the best I’ve seen implemented anywhere, at any university or college at Cambridge and beyond. My sincere congratulations to the college and to the bursar for advancing the field of responsible investment.”

The Responsible Investment policy has been published alongside a new sustainability strategy. These have been developed over the last few years, with input from college fellows, staff and students as well as industry experts. The sustainability strategy includes measures to reduce the college’s overall demand for energy and commit to the highest standards in future infrastructure projects, as well as ways to influence individual behaviour change.

In addition to its financial investments, Jesus College is a long-term investor in property, particularly in the Greater Cambridge area. It has set a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions in its property investments by 2050.

Other commitments to sustainability in relation to its properties include:

· Promoting high standards of sustainability and biodiversity in any future development

· Developing a strategy to transition from the use of fossil fuels in residential properties

· Working with commercial tenants to reduce the carbon footprint of the buildings they occupy

· Prioritising those who engage in nature-friendly farming when seeking new tenants for its rural properties.

The Responsible Investment policy also addresses the college’s cash holdings and banking. Going forward, the college will push for a reduction in lending to fossil-fuel companies and take its business elsewhere if institutions fail to engage actively with the values expressed in the policy.

Sonita Alleyne, Jesus College’s Master, said: “Both these documents have at their core a common set of values that regard climate change as the most important challenge facing the global economy and society, and identify the role that the college can play in meeting this challenge. I am proud of the stance that the college has taken in addressing this in a comprehensive and ambitious way.”

Dr Richard Anthony, Jesus College’s bursar, said: “We want to be recognised globally as a leading academic institution, which is why we have spent our time carefully developing these plans, which are both ambitious and broad in scope. These are stretching targets which set a precedent for Cambridge and which, as a college, we are all very excited about.”

Stuart Websdale, Jesus College’s domestic bursar, said: “This is a significant milestone which reinforces our commitment to tackling climate change. Some changes may be small with a focus on collective cumulative impact – others will be more substantial and instantaneous but, either way, we look forward to working together as a community to achieve our aims and effect change.”

Sonita Alleyne, Master at Jesus College. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sonita Alleyne, Master at Jesus College. Picture: Keith Heppell

Emma Robertson, investor engagement manager for the Responsible Investment Network – Universities, which is coordinated by the charity ShareAction, said: “It is really impressive to see ambitions to tackle the systemic challenges we are facing laid out so clearly, with targets, and an action plan to achieve them. The highlighting of the topics of biodiversity and land use is especially encouraging given the context of the work that Jesus College is doing alongside its peers within the Responsible Investment Network, Universities. This policy, and the resolve to implement it through collaboration, demonstrates the huge power that an asset owner can have when working with others.”

An XR Cambridge spokesperson said: “It’s great to see Jesus College stepping up and joining the increasing number of colleges that are recognising their duty to invest in a way which is consonant with their survival. This is a testament to the pressure that has been applied by students and activists over a period of years.

“While the 2022 deadline for fossil fuel divestment is very welcome, the 2038 and 2050 dates are worryingly distant, given the current severity of the climate and biodiversity crisis. There is also good reason to be sceptical about what ‘net zero’ will mean in practice, and whether ESG – environmental, social, and governance – investing can be shown to be more than greenwashing.”

Jesus College is one of the largest of the 31 constituent colleges of the University of Cambridge, and joins King’s College (full divestment by 2030), Trinity College (full divestment by 2031), Pembroke College (full divestment by 2023), C Christi (full divestment by 2025), St John’s College (full divestment commitment in 2013) and Clare Hall (committed to full divestment in 2019). A college spokesperson noted that “divestment is not the only tool to be used, and focusing too much on divestments deflects from broader questions as to how the modern economy can decarbonise”.

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