Protestors marched down Petty Cury in April to demand divestmentAnkur Desai

Cambridge’s University Council decided last week to ‘blacklist’ investments in coal and tar sands from its endowment, following calls for divestment and positive investment by a number of student societies and academics.

However, despite sustained campaigns, a decision was taken not to fully divest from oil and gas companies.

“[We have] no expectation of having any such exposure [to coal and tar sands] in the future,” said a report from the Advisory Committee on Benefactions and External and Legal Affairs (ACBELA) Working Group on the University’s investment responsibility.

“Regulatory change and public policy significantly affect the expected economic returns from carbon-related industries”.

Earlier this week, in anticipation of the report, Cambridge Zero Carbon Society revealed to Varsity their concerns about the Working Group outcome. They expressed fears that its findings would only recommend consideration of environmental factors in future investment decisions, rather than full divestment, and criticised them for a perceived “failure to engage”.

The Working Group, which was created last year to evaluate “how the Investment Board integrates environmental, social, and governance considerations” into the University’s investment practice, was criticised by Zero Carbon for a “lack of focus on climate change and sustainability.”

The divestment campaign group said they felt ignored by the Working Group; despite having previously submitted a 75-page report in favour of divestment, which cited a number of economists, Zero Carbon were not granted an opportunity to present their findings to the committee.

They recently joined another group, Positive Investment Cambridge, in an open letter criticising the “lack of transparency” and “lack of student involvement” in the Working Group’s activities, which they described as “unfair”.

The campaign for divestment has also received the endorsement of Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College, and Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner – as well as the strong support of CUSU Council, which in November last year passed a motion stating that “it is morally wrong for the University to invest in fossil fuel reserves while leading the way in sustainability research” by a vote of 33-1.

Twelve UK universities have made the decision to divest fully from fossil fuels, including Newcastle University, SOAS, and Queen Margaret University.

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, last year warned that investors faced “potentially huge” losses from stranded coal, oil, and gas assets. Similarly, the Zero Carbon report claimed that government action on climate change would “soon render a large proportion of fossil fuel assets worthless”, and that “if Cambridge sticks with fossil fuels, huge losses are on the horizon.”

University of Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Leszek Borysiewicz and Chief Investment Officer Nick Cavalla plan to inform the University’s fund managers that they are now expected to “incorporate an assessment of climate change risks into their investment processes” as a result of these financial concerns.

Farhan Samanani, who sits on the Working Group committee, told the Financial Times: “We are challenging all our fund managers to rethink carbon investments.”

However, he also said that the University could “gain a lot more traction” in positively influencing carbon-intensive companies “by engaging with [them] rather than by dumping the small number of fossil fuel stocks we own”, and that in this way “there is real potential for a positive and wide-ranging impact.”

The Zero Carbon report strongly rejected what it described as “soft” approaches to investment such as shareholder engagement as “ineffective”, arguing that proponents of these measures overestimate the power of minority shareholders and that they “cannot hope to achieve change on the scale and timeframe necessary.”

Speaking after the University Council’s decision, Angus Satow, Campaigns Officer at Cambridge Zero Carbon, promised to “continue to fight for full divestment”.

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