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University of Cambridge to divest from fossil fuels in drive for zero carbon

The University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge is to divest from all of its direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels, it was announced today (Thursday).

In a move that has been welcomed by Sir David Attenborough, and following ongoing pressure from environmental groups, students and staff, the university said it plans to divest by 2030.

Announcing the changes in his annual address to the university, Professor Stephen J Toope, vice-chancellor, said: “The university is responding comprehensively to a pressing environmental and moral need for action with an historic announcement that demonstrates our determination to seek solutions to the climate crisis.

“We will approach with renewed confidence our collaborations with government, industry and research partners around the world as together we work for a zero carbon future.”

The university has a £3.5bn Cambridge University Endowment Fund, which it intends to use to invest more in renewable energy as it divests from fossil fuels.

The changes will form part of the university’s plan to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2038, meaning the endowment will be one the first of its kind where greenhouse gas emissions from the activities of all investments balance out at zero.

The changes will come in steps, including:

  • Withdrawing investments with conventional energy-focused public equity managers by December 2020
  • Building up significant investments in renewable energy by 2025
  • Divesting from all meaningful exposure in fossil fuels by 2030
  • Aiming to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions across its entire investment portfolio by 2038

Chief investment officer Tilly Franklin said: “Climate change, ecological destruction, and biodiversity loss present an urgent existential threat, with severe risks to humankind and all other life on Earth. The investment office has responded to those threats by pursuing a strategy that aims to support and encourage the global transition to a carbon neutral economy.”

Sir David Attenborough during a visit to Cambridge Picture: Keith Heppell
Sir David Attenborough during a visit to Cambridge Picture: Keith Heppell

The university has also announced that all research funding and other donations will, from now on, be scrutinised to ensure that the donor can demonstrate compatibility with the university’s greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Welcoming the move to divest, Sir David, who an honorary patron of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, said: “It is hugely encouraging that Cambridge University, home of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, should now be making this important contribution towards the restoration of the health of the natural world.”

As well as environmental groups, both staff and students had petitioned the university to divest from fossil fuels.

Ben Margolis, undergraduate president of the Cambridge Students Union, said: “This is a landmark decision for which students, staff and the Students' Union have been campaigning for years.

“The divestment report presents overwhelming evidence that the fossil fuel industry's practices are not compatible with the university's position as a world-leading site of scientific research, or its stated mission to contribute to society.

“The report points out the importance of divestment for frontline communities who are damaged by past and continued extraction by these companies. We hope that other institutions join us in divesting and take firm action in the face of the climate emergency.”

The changes back up the university’s climate change initiative, Cambridge Zero, which aims to use its world-leading teaching, research and global collaborations to influence urgently-needed systemic change.

Cambridge Zero director Emily Shuckburgh said: “These announcements put Cambridge at the forefront of the Race to Zero, the global alliance committed to rapidly reaching net zero emissions, and hopefully it will inspire many others to join in the ambitious climate action in the lead up to the UK hosting COP26 in 2021.

“More broadly, Cambridge Zero aims to catalyse a revolution that creates a positive future with a sustainable, resilient, fair and equitable zero-carbon world.”

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