Caddick hopes to push for a vote on divestment before the end of termDaniel Gayne

What was the aim of the discussion on Tuesday?

I think it’s important that we have a wide ranging debate on the issue of fossil fuel divestment, and all sorts of issues about how the University conducts itself. Climate change is the defining issue of our time, so what we’re aiming at is a discussion that will air the issues connecting with that as widely as possible. Divestment in particular is something that the University of Cambridge can do to basically throw its weight behind a transition to a low carbon economy.

The University has already taken its position on this. what was wrong with the working group’s report earlier this year?

That’s right, the ACBELA working group reported in June and recommended various things. Shareholder engagement was one of them, but the puzzling thing about that is that the way that the University invests - indirectly by giving money to fund managers - makes it difficult to see how the university can adopt [that recommendation]. But significantly, it falls short of a policy of divestment.

What do you make of suggestions that divestment would damage research relationships?

For a start, having a policy of not investing in these companies does not preclude research collaborations. If divestment communicates to these companies that they have to change, and move to a way of working that doesn’t involve taking fossil fuels from the ground, then we will have achieved our aim. They will still have to transition to something else, and these research collaborations are one way that might happen. We, as a university, need their expertise and they need us. That being the case, they’re not going to walk away. A policy of divestment would help us lead them towards a more sustainable business model.

What’s the next step for the campaign?

Two things. Firstly, the Council automatically has to respond to the remarks that were made. So that will be a way of continuing the debate in the University. And the other thing is that if 50 members of the Regent House force a vote on the issue, then the Council has to put it to the Regent House for a vote. Given there is so much concern about this issue, that is what I would hope will happen.

When is that likely to happen?

I’d hope that this would happen by the end of this term.

What pushed you to get involved in the environmental movement?

Since the financial crash of 2008, it has been clear that the financial system we have at the moment is not sustainable. The thought crystallised - I’m not sure exactly when - that it is the environment that is the key issue. Because capitalism requires continuous growth in a finite world, we cannot accommodate it. So the issue after the crash is how we’re going to make the financial system that we have continue to work. And so it’s quite clear that we need to change it so that the environment is protected.

If the Regent House votes for something, is it then policy?

Yes. The governing body of the University is the Regent House. So if the Grace vote is passed, that then becomes University policy. The issue would be that, even though the Regent House are the governing body, the Council are the charity trustees and so there will probably be discussions about how those two roles are married together. There’s also an issue here about what a policy of divestment means.

Does the University Council have any say on the matter?

In terms of holding a vote, that has to be agreed on by the Council. I have known situations where they haven’t. But if they choose not to, that itself has to be voted on. So there is a vote whatever happens.

What's the balance of opinion on the University Council?

It's very difficult to say. The University Council unanimously approved the working group report. It was clear from the discussion that there wasn’t support for the Council initiating a vote.