Why Cambridge Should Divest

Image credit: Matt Gurtler

The science is clear— to meet global targets on climate change, we need to leave at least 80% of our fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Burning these fuel reserves would lead to catastrophe— approximately 8°C of warming. Fossil fuel companies in denial are insisting that these reserves will be extracted. They would, of course, say that. The financial value of these companies relies on it.

Cambridge invests in these companies whilst its own research says that their futures are built on lies. Not only is this hypocritical, but it’s also a poor financial decision to bet on a company that you know is doomed to decline. In fact, Exxon Mobil is already being sued by its own shareholders for lying about climate risks. Last year, a US coal company, Peabody Energy, was punished by regulators for similar failings.

The list of Universities which have already removed their investments from fossil fuels is long and growing; Warwick, Southampton, Glasgow, SOAS and Trinity College Dublin to name just a few. Only this week they were joined by St Andrews, and Laval— the first Canadian University to divest.

And now in Cambridge, we’re close to joining them. Regent House, the university’s governing body, passed a motion last month committing the University to divestment. This is the same body that voted on class lists last term, and decisions made here formally become University policy. But in an unprecedented move, University Council is refusing to follow through on this decision.

Council, a group of 23 chaired by the Vice-Chancellor, have decided that the motion in favour of divestment was only “advisory”. This has no basis in the statutes of the University, and dangerously undermines the University’s democratic decision making procedures. That’s important because up until now, University fellows have had the final say on everything from class lists, to student fees, to the University’s implementation of Prevent. By claiming now that a Regent House motion is advisory, Council is undertaking a silent coup d’état.

Rather than committing to divestment, University Council are instead offering yet another report. But the last University report on ethical investments, conducted by the secretive “ACBELA” committee, was a farce. Unminuted, unaccountable and unwilling to seriously consider pro-divestment testimony, the report produced by this group was confused and contradictory.

Ironically, one of the few things that this report did acknowledge was that divestment is compatible with ‘fiduciary duty’ – the legal responsibility to invest a charity’s money in a financially prudent manner. Yet Council are now claiming fiduciary duty as an excuse not to divest.

Council are trying to lead us in circles. There have been enough reports, enough working groups, enough secretive committees.

We live in an age that is distrustful of experts. It’s easy for academics to preach about climate change from ivory towers, but who will take our warnings seriously unless we follow up our words with actions? It’s time for Cambridge to put its money where its mouth is. It’s time to divest.

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