Zero Carbon is solely interested in divestment, whereas PIC campaign more broadly for positive investmentAstrid Westvang

The University of Cambridge and its colleges hold a £5.89 billion endowment (split approximately 50:50), which is currently invested in a variety of companies, including fossil-fuel corporations. But some students have campaigned for the University to ‘divest’ from the fossil fuel industry.

In 2015, a Working Group, formally named the Advisory Committee on Benefactions and External and Legal Affairs (ACBELA), was set up within the University to explore potential changes that can be made to integrate environmental, social and governance concerns into the University’s investment strategy.

Two societies are leading the battle for the University to change its investment strategy: Cambridge Zero Carbon Society (ZC) and Positive Investment Cambridge (PIC). The main focus of ZC is the commitment to divestment, which is more political as it will affect the ‘fossil-fuelled’ companies themselves, whereas PIC is involved in a diverse range of projects related to positive investment. It considers divestment as only one of the many tools that should be used.

In November 2015 CUSU voted to back ZC’s divestment campaign and, in April 2016, over 250 people took part in a divestment march through Cambridge organized by the campaign group. At the end of the march Angus Satow, then Campaigns Officer for ZC, handed a petition of over 2,100 signatories and an open letter calling for divestment, to the University’s Ceremonial Officer.

ZC also released a 75-page report in April 2016, one week before the march, detailing their reasons for divestment from fossil fuels, arguing that divestment is a “moral imperative for the University of Cambridge”. The report included a foreword from the former Archbishop of Canterbury and Master of Magdalene College, Rowan Williams.

In June 2016, the Working Group published a report guaranteeing that investments in coal and tar sands would be terminated but did not commit to full divestment from oil and gas companies. This spurred the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society to denounce the group’s “lack of focus on climate change and sustainability”.

The divestment campaign group have lodged a number of complaints against the ACBELA working group. PIC and ZC wrote an open letter criticising the “lack of transparency” and “lack of student involvement” in the Working Group’s activities, which they described as “unfair”. ZC also complained that they were not granted an opportunity to present the findings of their  report to the committee.

Currently, 23 UK universities have made the decision to divest fully from fossil fuels, including Newcastle University, SOAS and the University of Glasgow. 16 other universities have made the same decision as Cambridge, to divest from coal and tar sands only. These include Oxford, Edinburgh and Birmingham. Over the whole country, a total of $3.4 trillion has been divested through the commitment of 641 institutions, 15 per cent of which are colleges, universities and schools.