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University of Cambridge divestment announcements due ‘early October’




University of Cambridge vice-chancellor Stephen Toope speaking at the closing plenary of the 2020 Alumni Festival with, clockwise from left, Cambridge Zero Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero; Professor Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development; Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group and Ella Palmer, a research strategy intern at Cambridge Zero
University of Cambridge vice-chancellor Stephen Toope speaking at the closing plenary of the 2020 Alumni Festival with, clockwise from left, Cambridge Zero Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero; Professor Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development; Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group and Ella Palmer, a research strategy intern at Cambridge Zero

The University of Cambridge will make “very important announcements” relating to divestment from fossil fuel companies in early October, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge Stephen Toope has stated.

The statement was made during the online ‘Cambridge Zero: Addressing the challenge of climate change’ event at the closing plenary of the 2020 Alumni Festival yesterday (September 26). Following an introductory message from Sir David Attenborough, Prof Toope engaged in conversation with Dr Emily Shuckburgh, director of Cambridge Zero, and guests to consider the climate crisis.

The occasion explored the role of the University, and how it can best support the transition to a zero carbon future through the breadth of its capabilities and the knowledge and talent of its members. The guests on the panel were Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group; Professor Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development and - representing the current student cohort - Ella Palmer, a research strategy intern at Cambridge Zero.

It was known that the University Council met on September 21 to receive a long-awaited report to help it decide whether to divest from an estimated £400m of - largely indirect - investments in fossil fuel entities . What was not known was that the university would respond to it so promptly.

Prof Toope said: “In fact we have a committee that has to consider all of the philanthropy and research contracts from an ethical and reputational standpoint before we are willing to take money from organisations. That committee has in fact been looking at the whole question of climate change and it’s recently given a report to our university council which was ratified by council seeking to align our whole approach around research funding, both philanthropic and contracts, with the university’s climate change commitments.

“So that’s a new step for Cambridge and it is going to result in changing relationships with a whole series of external entities, not just fossil fuel companies, I have to say. We are going to be looking to assess whether or not we think that the relationship is moving in the right direction, is aligned with Cambridge policies on climate change or not. So that’s a big step.

“I’m also delighted to report that the council has just received a major report on pros and cons of divestment from fossil fuel in relation to our endowment fund, and there will be very important announcements made very soon by the university in fact I’ll be making some of them. I don’t want to give that away but early in October expect to hear something.”

The news was received enthusiastically by Cambridge Extinction Rebellion, who mounted a major campaign throughout August to raise awareness of the university’s continuing engagement with fossil fuel organisations.

A spokesperson for the climate action group said: “XR Cambridge is delighted to learn that the University is finally cleaning up its act and ending its collaborations with planet-wrecking companies and donors.

“We hope this is not just greenwash, but genuine and far-reaching change to combat a rapidly unfolding global catastrophe. We’ll be watching keenly.”

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