In January 2017, Regent House passed a Grace without opposition calling the University to fully divest from fossil fuels. University Council, in an unprecedented move, approved the Grace but did not follow through with its mandate (1). Instead, Council decided to establish the divestment working group as a placatory gesture, and it now looks set to reject full divestment, simply reaffirming a two year old promise to divest from coal and tar sands (2). This is unacceptable and represents a subversion of democratic structures.
Divestment from fossil fuels, both direct and indirect, would bring investment policy in line with University values, research and mission statement which expresses a commitment to sustainability (3). As a world-leading institution, Cambridge is behind the times on divestment, with many leading UK universities such as Bristol, Durham and Edinburgh having already committed to full divestment (4).
This is also an issue of transparency and accountability. Precious few people seem to have any idea where the University’s money is invested, with Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope recently admitting in an open meeting that even he was in the dark. At the same time, the leak of the Paradise Papers last year revealed that Cambridge has invested tens of millions in offshore funds linked to oil exploration and off-shore drilling. (5)
We support divestment from fossil fuels because it has long been democratically supported by students and staff. Divestment is both necessary and urgent to stigmatise the fossil fuel industry who are most responsible for a warming climate. As detailed in the 2013 Oxford Smith School Report, divestment encourages companies to abandon environmentally abusive business models, and adds pressure to national government to bring about UK policy change (6). Divestment would be in line with the Paris Agreement, aiming to halt global warming of over 2 ̊C. It is also financially prudent, as fossil fuels may soon become stranded assets, and corroborates with Cambridge's own research across departments warning of the dangers of fossil fuel dependency.
We call on University Council to take all necesary steps to ensure investment transparency with its beneficiaries, students and staff at the University. We also call on the University’s Investment Office to immediately freeze any new investments in fossil fuel companies, and to divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years. To state explicitly - we are calling for divestment both from direct and indirect funds. We ask the University to then consider how this money can be reinvested more ethically.
Divestment will bring Cambridge’s finances back in line with its ethics and own research, and in doing so make a powerful contribution to the global fight for climate justice.
(1) http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2016-17/weekly/6450/section1.shtml#heading2-7(2) https://www.ft.com/content/028cbf70-1e02-11e8-aaca-4574d7dabfb6(3) https://www.cam.ac.uk/about-the-university/how-the-university-and-colleges-work/the-universitys-mission-and-core-values(4) https://peopleandplanet.org/fossil-free-victories(5) https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/nov/08/paradise-papers-oxford-cambridge-invest-millions-offshore-funds-oxbridge(6) http://www.smithschool.ox.ac.uk/publications/reports/SAP-divestment-report-final.pdf