A senior source described the Council’s understanding of the issues surrounding Cambridge’s investment portfolio as “shocking”Zero Carbon

Fossil fuel investments have been some of the shakiest on the market in recent years. The volatile price of oil continues to affect most production sectors, and coal in particular is currently one of the worst investments, with some portfolios collapsing entirely under the weight of substantial losses.

The University’s current exposure to fossil fuel investments is a closely held secret. Although the May 2016 report from the University’s Working Group on Investment Responsibility reported that, of the University’s directly managed securities, there is no exposure to thermal coal or tar sands, and only “negligible” exposure to other fossil fuel industries, more than 96 per cent of the value of the University’s investments are operated by autonomous third-party fund managers, whose investments cannot be so rigorously policed.

The University’s investment is managed by the Investment Board. However, its internal processes are opaque, and not well understood even by those with access to the full facts. Responsibility ultimately lies with the University Council, whose duty it is to ensure the health of University investments, and who bear legal responsibility. However, a senior source told Varsity the Council’s understanding of the issues surrounding investment was “shocking”.

If a divestment Grace were to be successfully passed through Regent House, it would mark the beginning rather than the end of the fight facing divestment campaigners. The process of actually divesting would be a considerable logistical challenge, requiring the untangling of many complicated investment arrangements. Third-party fund managers may also put pressure on Cambridge not to divest, or else to withdraw from these funds altogether, but the financial clout of the University’s vast investment portfolio makes this unlikely.

It is important to note, however, that divestment does not impact capital, only ownership. In order to divest, Cambridge must find buyers for the stock they wish to sell, so the level of investment in fossil fuels is not impacted. Likewise, acquiring shares in alternative sectors simply displaces other owners, so there is little scope for Cambridge to make a positive impact through the stock market.

Instead, it has been suggested that Cambridge should make a greater attempt to invest directly, and to acquire private rather than public equity.

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