June 8, 2018

Cambridge University ‘bought off by fossil fuel industry’ as divestment rejected once again

Press release by Cambridge Zero Carbon Society

CAMBRIDGE, UK — University of Cambridge’s governing council today rejected calls for divestment from fossil fuels. This came despite huge pressure from students and staff at the prestigious institution, as well as leading politicians including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Academics slammed the decision, suggesting that “the University has been bought off by the fossil fuel industry” and demanding “fundamental democratisation.”

University Council even rejected the core recommendation of a Working Group report on divestment, a 10% ESG fund, instead looking to appoint an ESG officer. The report also reaffirmed Cambridge’s previous commitment to divest from coal and tar sands, and suggested various other measures to improve the University’s environmental standards.

The report had already been condemned this week in an open letter signed by over 200 academics, describing it as: ‘transparent attempt to thwart the direct and positive action of divestment by offering a range of more distant and ill-defined proposals in its place.’ But student campaigners decried the fact that the University was unable to accept even this “shallow measure”.

Angus Satow, a spokesperson for Cambridge Zero Society, the divestment campaign group called for the resignations of members of the University finance office, saying:

“The Chief Financial Officer Anthony Odgers, Chief Investment Officer Nick Cavalla and Director of Finance David Hughes are widely known to have been the driving force blocking the democratic will of the University.

“They should consider their positions – the University must listen to its staff, research and students, not corporate executives. Something is rotten in this University – a fundamental overhaul of governance and democracy is required if Cambridge is to truly serve the public good, rather than private profit. ”

He also pointed to an independent study by Cambridge academics published this week which argued that “divestment from fossil fuels is both a prudential and necessary thing to do”, declaring that “no one agrees with the University’s decision, least of all its own scientists.”

The author of the open letter Dr Jason Scott-Warren said:

‘The University has been bought off by the fossil fuel industry. We need urgent action to reclaim it from the forces that are destroying the planet.’

The working group had been set up after the University’s staff Governing Body Regent House – ‘embodiment of the University as democratic institution’ – passed a motion for full divestment in May 2017.

Angus Satow, a spokesperson for the campaign group the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, said:

“This decision is a farce. The working group report ignores Cambridge’s own science, omits to mention the 2C warming limit and refuses to cite much of the evidence submitted to it in favour of divestment and around human rights abuses by fossil fuel companies.

The working group was set up to block divestment and that’s exactly what it has done. University management can dress this up however they like, but the truth is that they are under the thumb of corporate interests, even hiring a Director of Finance from Shell. They have no credibility whatsoever with the University community.”


Contact: Angus Satow, Cambridge Zero Carbon Society Press Officer, angus.satow@gmail.com, +44 7847754046



In a further statement, the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society accused the report of “refusing to face up to the elephant in the room that is the fossil fuel industry: both Cambridge’s own science and common climate sense are telling us continued fossil fuel extraction is at odds with a livable planet, something a university management in hock to private interests is unwilling to face up to.”

Jason Scott-Warren, Reader in English at Gonville & Caius College: ‘The University has been bought off by the fossil fuel industry. We need urgent action to reclaim it from the forces that are destroying the planet.’

Mary Laven, Professor of Early Modern History, said: “The University has failed to use 800 years of authority and expertise to take a leadership role in the greatest crisis facing our planet. Our managers often talk about ‘risk management’ and the importance of avoiding ‘reputational damage’. It is hard to imagine a more risky, reputation-damaging moment in the history of the University.”

Dr Nick Evans, Clare College, said: “The University of Cambridge has a moral duty to divest entirely from fossil fuels. As climate catastrophe is already claiming lives and destroying livelihoods around the world, the continued investment of the University in carbon corporations is unacceptable. Senior management has undermined democratic governance and has disregarded opinions of students and staff in order to keep the institution tied to corporations that endanger life on this planet. The University of Cambridge often prides itself on being able to take the long view. Council’s attempt to block the move to full divestment represents the worst kind of short-termism.”

Daniel Zeichner, Cambridge MP:  “The University of Cambridge needs to be practicing what it preaches in terms of its statement on investment responsibility and align itself much more closely with ethical investment – which means moving away from investing in the fossil fuel industry. But whatever the ethics, it is the changing economic facts which should allow the University to make the right decision. The economic sustainability of the fossil fuel industry is in serious doubt. As the international community continues to push for low and zero carbon policies, many now predict that the carbon bubble will eventually collapse. The University must take this into account, and act prudently. This week they have the opportunity to make a commitment for the coming years that enables a smooth transition away from dirty fuel once and for all – they should take it”


Further Information on the campaign

Following the publication of the report two weeks ago, 200 Cambridge academics signed an open letter penned by Reader in English at Gonville & Caius College Jason Scott-Warren, which accused the report of treating Cambridge like a corporation and criticised “a transparent attempt to thwart the direct and positive action of divestment.”

Leading politicians including Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott and Green Party Co-Leader Caroline Lucas, as well as 13 other MPs, added their voices to the calls for divestment this week. In a joint statement released on Thursday, “as a leading global educational institution [Cambridge] must take decisive action to end its complicity in destructive climate change.”

Campaigners from the student-led Cambridge Zero Carbon Society have stepped up their campaign in recent months, with a banner drop at the Annual Boat Race and a week-long occupation of the University’s administrative offices, which ended with bailiffs employed by a private contractor specialising in ‘traveller evictions’ forcibly removing protesters.