‘Incompatible with the Paris Agreement’: Divestment policy in Cambridge

Will Bennett 19 October 2017

On Wednesday I caught up with Marcel Llavero Pasquina of Zero Carbon Society Cambridge to discuss divestment and climate change at the university.  Re-launched in 2015 Zero Carbon Society want to bring the university to a stage where it can be fossil-free.  Marcel quickly established that ‘overall, the direction that Cambridge university is taking is the right direction’. I nudged him for comment on the broader severity of things.  Cambridge’s carbon policies recently made the front page of the Financial Times and I suspected things weren’t perfect.  He admitted that it isn’t yet enough to counter ‘the climate emergency we live in now’.

Marcel remarked that Cambridge’s issue is not a lack of will or incentive but the levels of bureaucracy.   As an institution, Cambridge has ‘lots of official processes to go through’ and ‘for good or for bad Cambridge is a traditional institution’.  I think that most students would feel instinctively that both comments ring true.  CUSU passed a motion in favour of divestment in 2015, and the issue clearly isn’t opposition from 'higher-ups'.  Rather, laboriously getting boxes ticked has affected the ‘speed not the actual process’ of change.

When I pushed his critique of Cambridge’s policy, Marcel conceded that Cambridge’s investment strategy in fossil fuels is indeed ‘incompatible with the Paris climate agreement’.  People & Planet estimate that Cambridge has invested more than £370million in fossil fuels.  Marcel carefully covered his tracks, keenly asserting that the University itself hasn’t broken the Paris Agreement – but the University’s policy has?…  It is hard to draw a convincing line between the two.      

Recently the Zero Carbon Society produced a submission to the university in collaboration with People & Planet and the NUS.  It was designed to persuade the university to fully divest their £6.3bn endowment, even garnering the signature of a certain Noam Chomsky.  It is unclear exactly what will happen as a result, and Marcel suspected that the ‘council is undemocratically holding back’ the change demanded by the submission.  His concern is that the Grace approved by Regent House is being taken as advisory.  What the council are obliged to do is unclear, but the pressure is mounting. 

As we get up to leave the room Marcel added, ‘I would like to bring climate change out of the political agenda because we have solved it, but we haven’t yet, and its getting worse.’ Stepping out into the corridor, Marcel gasps, darts back inside and flicks off the overhead lights.

Zero Carbon Society hold open meetings every Saturday at 4pm in the Sidney Sussex bar, and will be holding two town hall meetings next Wednesday and on November 9th.