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The climate and biodiversity crisis is getting worse by the day. Millions of people are already suffering its effects - catastrophic flooding, megafires, unprecedented droughts, and the beginnings of failed harvests. All over the world, fossil fuel companies are decimating areas of high biodiversity to retrieve oil, gas, and coal that they know we can’t burn if we’re to avoid climate and ecological collapse. These same companies do what they please to the communities they destroy in their extraction process. Due to unchallenged systemic racism, these communities are largely black or indigenous. In countless cases, fossil fuel companies literally get away with murder [1] [2] [3].

The University of Cambridge knows all of this. They produce reams of research showing us that the crises are worse than we thought and that they reinforce and exacerbate each other. The University even has its very own climate crisis initiative, Cambridge Zero, which states that “if we are to avert a climate disaster, we must sharply reduce our emissions, starting today… We are the last generation who can do something about catastrophic climate change.” [4]

And yet the University and its colleges still invest approximately 6.4% of their endowment funds in fossil fuel companies - at the last valuation we have access to, this was over £400 million. In addition, they carry out research enabling the industry to drill for more oil in environmentally sensitive areas such as the Arctic, give them social licence by naming many buildings, scholarships, professorships, and awards after them, and even allow Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company, to occupy a huge research laboratory on their West Cambridge Site [5]. It is clear that the University is in thrall to the very industry that is destroying our planet.

Divestment has been proven to be highly effective in removing the social legitimacy of unethical industries and facilitating shifts in government policy - fossil fuels are no exception [6]. BP’s CEO has directly asked the University not to divest [7], and several other major oil companies describe divestment as a material threat to their business [8]. Over half of universities in the UK - including Oxford - have now divested, yet the University of Cambridge lags far behind with only a supposed commitment not to invest in the extraction of tar sands or thermal coal (to which it cannot prove its adherence).

Students and staff of the University have demanded full divestment time and time again over the last five years [9]. In fact, they have exhausted every possible democratic avenue available to them. Despite many calls for divestment from the students, staff, and members of Regent House (the University’s official governing body), requests have been consistently ignored. At every stage they have faced resistance, prevarication, and delay from senior management and the opaque Investment Office [10]. University democracy has failed.

It is time for the University and its colleges to listen to their constituent parts and the city and world they exist in. We demand, on behalf of both town and gown, that the University of Cambridge and its non-divested colleges divest their endowment funds immediately. If they continue to ignore the needs of the society they exist to serve, the only reasonable response is a campaign of non-violent direct action. When those in power refuse to listen to calls for justice issued via the ‘proper channels’, they leave us with no alternative. The time for producing reports and discussing in council chambers is over. We cannot and will not wait any longer.

Demands

Thanks to the fossil fuel divestment student society, Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, the University has been presented with two Graces, created a Divestment Working Group (which it later disbanded), and commissioned a report on divestment, all the while managing not to divest. The University Council was to be presented with the already delayed report in July 2020 in preparation for a vote on whether to divest the University endowment fund in September. To our disappointment, but not to our surprise, the report has just been delayed again.

This is unacceptable. Zero Carbon have demanded divestment for over five years [9], and XR Youth Cambridge have also demanded it in their Rebel for Justice campaign [11]. During this time, the climate crisis has worsened considerably - the Executive Director of the International Energy Agency very recently stated that we have just six months left to change our course to avoid climate catastrophe [12]. This is clearly an emergency. We do not have months to wait. The University must call an emergency Council meeting on divestment immediately.

By the end of July 2020, we demand that the University of Cambridge and all its colleges announce plans to:

  1. Divest from and make no future investment in the following:
    • All fossil fuel industries (all types of coal, tar sands, oil, gas, and fracking), unsustainable biomass, and any other non-renewable fuel production
    • All companies involved in biodiversity destruction or degradation
    • The arms trade (one of the biggest users of fossil fuels and facilitators of the industry in the world - e.g. the US military is the largest single institutional greenhouse gas producer in the world [13] [14])
    • Intensive animal farming (shown to be a huge contributor to greenhouse gas emissions)
    • All other ecocidal companies and industries
  2. Use this opportunity to reinvest ethically in companies and industries that:
    • Produce zero or very low levels of greenhouse gases or pollutants of any form
    • Have a positive impact on biodiversity
    • Have zero tolerance for racism or discrimination of any kind
    • Uphold all human rights, avoiding all kinds of exploitation via poverty, slavery, or other unethical practices
    • Uphold animal rights
    • Promote sustainable alternatives to industrial farming
    • Involve themselves in community schemes e.g. public housing, public transport, and healthcare

The commitments to meet these demands must be fulfilled by the end of 2020, and must cover both direct and indirect investments, including any in the central endowment fund.

Signed: Extinction Rebellion Cambridge and Extinction Rebellion Youth Cambridge

College fossil fuel divestment statuses

A fossil fuel company is any company involved in the exploration, extraction, refining, transporting, and/or marketing of fossil fuels. This includes the development and sale of technology used to aid any of these e.g. artificial intelligence software used to find new oil deposits, or research into better extraction techniques.

Definitions of the divestment statuses can be found here.

Last updated: Wednesday 12th August 2020

Non-divested

  • Christ’s
  • Churchill
  • Clare
  • Corpus Christi
  • Darwin
  • Girton
  • Homerton
  • Hughes Hall
  • Lucy Cavendish
  • Magdalene
  • Murray Edwards
  • Pembroke
  • Sidney Sussex
  • St Catharine’s
  • St Edmund’s
  • Trinity
  • Trinity Hall
  • Wolfson

Partially-divested, but with no commitment to remain so

Partially-divested

Fully-divested

References

  1. Amnesty International report - On Trial: Shell In Nigeria: https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/AFR4416982020ENGLISH.PDF
  2. Amnesty International report - Out of Sight, Out of Mind: https://www.amnesty.ca/sites/amnesty/files/Out%20of%20Sight%20Out%20of%20Mind%20EN%20FINAL%20web.pdf
  3. Greenpeace report - Toxic Air: The Price of Fossil Fuels: https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/The-Price-of-Fossil-Fuels-full-report.pdf
  4. Cambridge Zero story: https://www.cam.ac.uk/stories/cambridgezero
  5. Zero Carbon report - Dismantling the Fossil Fuel University: http://zerocarbonsoc.soc.srcf.net/wp-content/uploads/Fossil-Fuel-University-Report.pdf
  6. Zero Carbon Divestment Mythbuster: http://zerocarbonsoc.soc.srcf.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Divestment-Mythbuster-by-Zero-Carbon-Society.pdf
  7. BP chief urges Cambridge University to keep fossil fuel investments: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/apr/24/bp-bob-dudley-urges-cambridge-university-keep-fossil-fuel-investments
  8. Fossil fuel divestment funds rise to $6tn: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/sep/10/fossil-fuel-divestment-funds-rise-to-6tn
  9. Zero Carbon Divestment Campaign: http://zerocarbonsoc.soc.srcf.net/category/divestment-campaign/
  10. Topic of Concern at Senate House, February 2019: https://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/reporter/2018-19/weekly/6537/section6.shtml
  11. XR Youth Cambridge Rebel for Justice University of Cambridge demands: https://xrcambridge.org/university-demand
  12. World has six months to avert climate crisis: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jun/18/world-has-six-months-to-avert-climate-crisis-says-energy-expert
  13. US military consumes more hydrocarbons than most countries – with a massive hidden impact on the climate: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/us-military-consumes-more-hydrocarbons-than-most-countries-with-a-massive-hidden-impact-on-the-climate
  14. Pentagon Fuel Use, Climate Change, and the Costs of War: https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/papers/ClimateChangeandCostofWar