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Trinity College to offload all fossil fuel investments ‘within 5-10 years’



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Trinity College has committed to fully divesting – which includes direct and indirect investments – from fossil fuels across its portfolios.

Last month, the college co-filed a shareholder resolution at HSBC asking the bank to phase out its lending to fossil fuel companies.

All direct investments in fossil fuels will cease by the end of the year, and indirect investments will be fully offloaded “within 5-10 years”.

According to a 2018 investigation Trinity College has at least £9.1m directly invested in companies involved in oil and gas production, extraction and exploration. The same investigation found that £8.2m of those investments were held in the top 100 companies responsible for 71 per cent of global emissions.

As the richest Oxbridge college, Trinity’s move is beyond symbolic. Its full endowment is £1,286,289,000, more than double the size of St John’s College, the second richest Cambridge College. Assets per student total approximately £1,453,776.

According to a 2018 investigation Trinity College has at least £9.1m directly invested in companies involved in oil and gas production, extraction and exploration. The same investigation found that £8.2m of those investments were held in the top 100 companies responsible for 71 per cent of global emissions.

The significant shift in its commitment to address climate change issues follows four years of student campaigning and an increasing resolve to hasten the shift towards a sustainable economy.

In July 2017 Trinity students requested information about college’s investments. Later that year they informally met with then Master of Trinity, Gregory Winter, and in February 2018 Trinity Responsible Investment Society was launched. in December 2018, Trinity undergraduate society moved to support divestment, and the gradate cohort declared a climate emergency in April 2019.

Trinity divested its direct holdings in coal, oil sands, weapons, and tobacco in July 2019. The new senior bursar, Richard Turnill, asked to investigate how best to reduce the environmental footprint of the College’s investment portfolio in September 2020, and earlier this year, a group of more than 120 Trinity alumni published an open letter calling on the college to divest, spanning alumni from the 1950s right through to the present day.

Prof Sir Gregory Winter was the first Master of Trinity to meet with students to discuss climate change during his 2012-2019 tenure. Picture: Trinity College, University of Cambridge
Prof Sir Gregory Winter was the first Master of Trinity to meet with students to discuss climate change during his 2012-2019 tenure. Picture: Trinity College, University of Cambridge

A spokesperson for Trinity Alumni for Divestment said: “Trinity Alumni for Divestment welcomes Trinity College’s momentous decision to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

“By divesting from fossil fuels, the college is sending a powerful political message: that it will no longer support the most destructive industry on the planet. This decision would not have been made without years of sustained pressure from Trinity’s students and alumni. An open letter delivered to the college last month urging the college to divest was signed by alumni from the 1950s right through to the present day.

“Divesting from fossil fuels will benefit the future of its students and alumni, but is also a first step to discharging Trinity’s responsibility, as a wealthy institution situated in the Global North, to frontline communities suffering first and worst from climate impacts. As alumni, we hope the college will continue to leverage its significant endowment to make positive change by severing its ties with all destructive industries, including arms and industrial agriculture.”

A Trinity Responsible Investment Society spokesperson said: “Trinity’s transition from laggard to leader is a testament to the steadfast engagement, education and activism of many groups inside and outside the College.”

Natalie Jones, a Trinity alumni and research associate at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge, said: “I am so proud of Trinity for finally taking a side on the biggest existential threat to humanity. My degree is meant to set me up for the future, and now Trinity is showing leadership and standing up to the industry that is threatening that future. This announcement shows the impact that students, staff and alumni can have working together.”

Euan Murray, Trinity alumni and chief executive of The Sustainability Consortium, said: “It is hugely encouraging to see Trinity taking a leadership role, as well as recognising that investment opportunities are brighter in higher-growth sectors.”

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and the global fossil fuel divestment movement, noted: “That the one-time home of Isaac Newton now embraces divestment is a powerful reminder of the great, undeniable physical realities our planet now faces.”

Extinction Rebellion Cambridge at Trinity College. Picture: Emily Scialom
Extinction Rebellion Cambridge at Trinity College. Picture: Emily Scialom

A Cambridge University Zero Carbon Society spokesperson said: “We hope that this will inspire other Cambridge colleges to follow suit, and praise the committed students, staff, and alumni who have been campaigning tirelessly on this issue over the past four years. The fight for climate justice goes well beyond the divestment movement however, and this must be only the first step in the College’s rejection of destructive industries: while Trinity maintains investments in arms companies, and banks with Barclays – the biggest funder of fossil fuel infrastructure in Europe – there is still work to be done.”

Climate activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR), which has regularly taken to Cambridge streets – and lawns – to highlight the growing threat of climate change, also suggested the battle for a sustainable economy is getting very granular: “XR Cambridge, XR Youth Cambridge, and XR Universities Cambridge welcome the news that Trinity College will divest 95 per cent of its immense £1.5bn endowment fund from all fossil fuel companies by the end of the year. We hope Trinity’s divestment will demonstrate to other institutions across the UK and the world that supporting the fossil fuel industry means complicity in environmental destruction, and that it is now clear that investing in ecocide is not acceptable.

However, if Trinity wants to demonstrate that the climate truly matters deeply to them, they must sever all their ties to the fossil fuel industry, not just their investments ties. This includes their teaching decisions, career guidance, and banking with Barclays, the biggest funder of fossil fuel infrastructure in Europe.”

To date, only three out of 32 constituent colleges – Pembroke, Christ’s and Clare Hall – have committed to terminating both direct and indirect investment from the fossil fuel industry. A further 13 – Newnham, Robinson, St John’s, Fitzwilliam, Selwyn, Emmanuel, Downing, Peterhouse, Lucy Cavendish, Jesus, and Trinity Hall – have publicly committed to partial divestment.



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