University Council refuses to follow divestment guidelines

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In a break from tradition, the University Council will not follow the recommendations of a motion passed by Regent House last month which calls for Cambridge to divest from fossil fuel companies within the next 12 months.

The motion, or “Grace”, was signed by 140 Fellows of the University, and proposed that “none of the University’s Endowment Funds should be invested directly or indirectly in companies whose business is wholly or substantially concerned with the extraction of fossil fuels.”

Cambridge currently has an endowment – money from charitable donations augmented on the stock market then used to run the University – of around £5bn, £2.2bn of which belongs to the University itself with the rest belonging to individual colleges.

It would be the largest university endowment in the world to divest from fossil fuels if it were to follow the Grace’s proposals.

The motion also called on the University Council to “publish a Report to the University within 12 months setting out how this is to be achieved”.

The Council will instead commission a report “to understand the consequences of any divestment from fossil fuel companies, including for its teaching and research programmes”, according to a University spokesperson.

They continued, “Pending the outcome of the report, the University will continue to pursue a policy of 'active engagement' with fund managers to ensure that the interests and values of the University are reflected in how holdings are acquired, managed and traded.”

The spokesperson added that “The University seeks to invest responsibly in order to carry out its charitable mission, which is ‘to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence’.

“The University Council respects the views of the Regent House, while remaining conscious that responsibility for investment matters rests solely with the Council, not with the Regent House, and so this Grace is advisory rather than mandatory. 

“The Council recognises the concerns around climate change. It also has to take its investment responsibilities very seriously as these fund key research and education about, among other things, the reasons for and solutions to climate change.”

Speaking to The Cambridge Student, Chris Galpin, from Cambridge's Zero Carbon Society, commented: "Council’s claim that this Grace is only ‘advisory’ has no basis in the University’s Statutes & Ordinances. This explains why they are so keen to avoid media scrutiny of their response, and why it fell to Zero Carbon and other groups to inform the fellows who signed the Grace that it was not being implemented.

"That Council chose not to make this clear to these fellows shows breath-taking contempt for the University’s democratic processes."

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