Cambridge could be set for divestment following University Grace

Joanna Taylor 15 December 2016

130 fellows have signed a motion promoting the University’s divestment from fossil fuels, meaning that the issue could be voted on in Regent House. 

The motion, or ‘Grace’, proposes 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”. 

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

It will now be put forward to the University Council, having exceeded the 50 signatures necessary, who will decide whether or not to submit the motion to voting in Regent House. 

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. 

Although it does not invest in coal and tar sands, the University does not currently have an ethical policy for the investment of its funds unlike similar institutions including Oxford. Cambridge’s Zero Carbon Society have been campaigning to change that, and have won the support of previous Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. 

Emma Bryan, President of Zero Carbon, told The Cambridge Student that: “We are really pleased about the proposal of this grace.”

“Resolute action on climate change is so important, and following the Discussion at Regent House in November we think that there is a promising chance that a vote could lead to full divestment, which would be amazing. 

“Zero Carbon believes that anything short of full divestment is not far enough; the University really needs to show that they back their own research and teaching through their investment policy, acting as a leader on climate change and social justice, and standing with the 688 institutions that have already divested. 

“Next term, it is really important to get the message out about why divestment is so necessary, so we will be having discussions with fellows to increase engagement and awareness on both a college and departmental level.”

A report from Cambridge’s Advisory Committee on Benefactions and External and Legal Affairs (ACBELA) guaranteed partial divestment in June, but Cambridge is still free to invest in oil and gas companies. 

Five months after this ACBELA’s report, Senate House debated the issue of divestment further with six students and eight members of Regent House speaking in favour of divestment, and seven members of Regent House speaking against. 

More than 2,300 people have signed Zero Carbon Society’s petition calling on the University to divest, whilst CUSU Council has previously voted 33-1 in favour of supporting the group. 

Although uncertain, it is likely that the Grace will now be taken forward to voting in Regent House.