“What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!”Ankur Desai

Over 250 people took part in the Zero Carbon march that made its way through Cambridge today. The procession started at Parker’s Piece at 12 noon, before making its way down Trumpington Street, through Market Square and gathering outside Senate House.

The march, organised by the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, which campaigns for the University of Cambridge to divest from fossil fuels, brought together a cross-section of the local community including student societies, town groups, faith communities and political groups.

Chanting slogans such as “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” and bearing placards with mottos including “Get with the times – Divest”, the rally drew the attention of onlookers as it made its way through the city.

Upon the rally’s arrival at Senate House, Angus Satow, Campaigns Officer for the Zero Carbon Society, handed a petition of over 2,100 signatories and an open letter to the University’s Ceremonial Officer, which will reach the Vice-Chancellor on Tuesday.

The letter calls upon the University to 'divest' its £5 billion endowment from companies such as Shell and BP, whose business practices are at odds with global efforts to halt a 2°C rise in global temperatures.

The open letter was signed by 100 academics and 20 individuals and organisations affiliated to the University – including the Cambridge Universities Labour Club and the Cambridge University Islamic Society – and warns that a failure to divest “will lead to huge losses on the horizon” as fossil fuel investments lose value.

Last week, the Zero Carbon Society released a report detailing their arguments for divestment from fossil fuels with a foreword written by the former Archbishop of Canterbury and current Master of Magdalene College, Lord Rowan Williams. In it, he wrote that climate change is “a life-and-death question for many communities around the world, especially for some of the most economically vulnerable” and that the University should “recognise the impossibility of expecting limitless returns from limited resources in our world."


The University has set up a working group to investigate potential changes in its investment strategy, which is due to report in the coming month. Students are demanding that this include full divestment from all fossil fuel – coal, oil and natural gas – companies. To date they have received considerable support from the student body, alongside a 33-1 vote of support at CUSU Council. The working group reports on 23rd May to Advisory Committee on Beneficiations and External Legal Affairs. A result will reach the University Council in June.

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, who spoke at the rally, congratulated the campaign. He noted that in the recent years, the green economy has been the part of the economy that has done well and to succeed, it needs long-term certainty from government to achieve considerable change. He added: “I’m in party politics because I’m a democrat and I believe you can make change at the ballot box. But it isn’t just about party politics. These kinds of campaigns make a huge difference too”.

Local Green Party councillor Oscar Gillespie made a timely reference to the Gaelic May Day festival, celebrated on 1st May throughout Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. “Happy Beltane”, he told the audience, “which is a festival of love, community and maturity where the young god reaches manhood. This campaign is about reaching maturity as a species.”

He noted that last October, Cambridge City Council resolved to ‘divest’, as part of a cross-party agreement. He continued: “In March this year, the Council presented its new Climate Change Strategy for the next five years, with the plan to achieve Zero Carbon status for Cambridge by 2050. But that’s only the start – that commitment is just the bare minimum to meet the Paris Agreement commitment to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees celsius”.

ankur desai

The Reverend Jeremy Caddick, Dean and Chaplain of Emmanuel College, encouraged the movement to continue its efforts. “In Michaelmas term, there will be a debate and then a vote of the 4,500 or so fellows who run the University. It is important in the meantime to keep the pressure on your supervisors, those who teach you, the people in your faculties.

"Cambridge is a highest-ranked university in the country and the highest-ranked in Europe. Divestment communicates to the financial world that the era of fossil fuels is ending and that the political and financial worlds need to find a way to do without them”.

Should it decide to divest, Cambridge would be following the lead of many other universities around the country, including Warwick and Glasgow. 

A spokesperson for Cambridge Zero Carbon Society said: “Saturday marks the culmination of a strong student movement which has consistently highlighted our serious concerns about fossil fuels investments, with various direct actions. Two thousand students have signed our petition, more in fact than voted for the Student Union President. When students are speaking out with such a strong voice, it would be unacceptable for the University to ignore them”.

A first-year geography student at King’s College, Adam Williams, who attended the rally said: “It’s been a great day. We’re campaigning for a good cause. There’s been a great atmosphere and I’m proud of the movement. It’s a real force for change”.