Cambridge university is currently divided in debate. Notable alumni, student groups, and even the university’s faith leaders, have all fiercely opposed the university’s investments in fossil fuels.
Students have called on the university’s £6.3bn endowment fund to drop investments, claiming to continue to do so would put the university’s finances and reputation at risk.
The university has received large donations from a number of oil companies in the past, causing some to feel concerned about potential cuts to research funding were the university to divest.
Companies such as BP, ExxonMobil, and Shell have all donated to the university.
The issue has extended far beyond the cobbled streets of Cambridge. Last year, the former Archbishop of Canterbury called the debate a “life-and-death question” and urged the university to reconsider.
Lord Rowan Williams said: “The cost of our slowness or indifference to these matters is immensely grave for the poorest in our world, and many of them are bewildered by our sluggish responses.”
At Cambridge, a divestment working group has held town hall style consultation meetings with students and staff.
Last year, the university said they would not make future investments in coal and tar sands, which they presently do not have any direct holdings in. Their working group issued a report which concluded it was better to keep investments.
It stated: “Regulatory change and public policy significantly affect the expected economic returns from carbon related industries. The group recognises therefore that engagement with fund managers may include such considerations and involve strategies, where feasible, to divest progressively, consistent with the expected performance of the portfolio.”
It’s an issue activist groups are passionate about: the city has seen students and academics hold demonstrations and organise a number of open letters against the issue. The picture of student protest is similar across the country, with more and more campuses turning against their university’s links to oil and coal industries.
54 universities have made the decision to divest, according to environmentalist group People & Planet. This means over a third of UK universities have invested in fossil free commitments, whilst nine institutions have refused to support fossil fuel companies.
The National Union of Students (NUS) said it was positive that such universities have pulled the plug on their investments.
Andrew Taylor Co-Director Campaigns and Communication at People & Planet said: “The richest universities in the UK are turning their backs on fossil fuel companies like BP and Shell. So are some of the least wealthy. Rich or underfunded, all universities exist for the public good. Students of today and tomorrow will remember who stood up to the fossil fuel industries reckless greed.”
Canterbury Christ Church, Chester, University for the Creative Arts, Cumbria, Newman, Wrexham Glyndwr, York St John, Writtle University College and Winchester are the most recent nine institutions to affirm a fossil free status.
Professor Tim Wheeler, Vice-Chancellor, University of Chester said: ‘Universities exist for the public good, from conducting life-changing research to educating the global citizens and leaders of tomorrow, and they are also at the forefront of climate change research.
We have students studying with us from across the world, many of whom come from communities who are already feeling the effects of, and are on, the front lines of climate change.
We want to protect the future of all of our students – current and future, locally and globally.’
NUS National President, Shakira Martin, said: “This announcement is testament to the power of the student movement, which has historically played a pivotal role in successful global divestment campaigns. By removing their funds from fossil fuels, universities are removing the social license of fossil fuel companies – and rightly so…”
Looking across the pond, US universities have made plans to divest following student protest. In 2014, the Ivy League university Stanford stated they would divest $18.7 billion of stock in coal-mining companies. Other colleges such as Syracuse and Georgetown have also divested. In New Zealand, students at the University of Auckland covered themselves in oil and walked through their campus to protest their vice-chancellor’s support for investments in the fossil fuel industry.