Is the campaign for divestment almost complete?Ankur Desai

The University Council has allowed a Grace which calls for an end to fossil fuel investments to be submitted to Regent House, marking a major step towards full divestment by the University.

The Grace will pass automatically unless members of Regent House call for a ballot, its withdrawal, or amendment of its content.

The Grace put to the Council, signed by 140 members of Regent House, proposes that “none of the University’s Endowment Funds should be invested directly or indirectly in companies whose business is wholly or substantially concerned with the extraction of fossil fuels.”

The Grace also said that the Council must “publish a Report to the University within 12 months setting out how this is to be achieved.”

The Council have announced that they propose to commission a report, which will look into the “advantages and disadvantages of the policy of divestment which the Grace supports, to be completed in so far as possible in line with the timescale envisaged in the Grace.”

The Council will keep Regent House updated as to the terms of reference, who will complete this report and the exact time scale for its delivery.

However, the Council noted that the Grace must not interfere with their responsibility to maintain the financial stability of the University, declaring that the Grace “cannot operate as a mandate in respect of the exercise of their fiduciary responsibility for the University’s investment practices”.

Currently, Cambridge does not directly invest in coal and tar sands, but it has yet to fully divest from oil and gas companies. This partial divestment was guaranteed by a report published in June by the Advisory Committee on Benefactions and External and Legal Affairs (ACBELA) working group on divestment.

The pressure on the University to divest has come mainly from the group Zero Carbon (ZC) Cambridge, which in April staged a huge march through the city to present a petition containing more than 2,100 signatures at the Senate-House. 

Chris Galpin of ZC told Varsity, "We are very pleased that divestment is going to Regent House as a result of over a year of campaigning by students and academics. Divestment at Cambridge is now within reach, and will send a message to the World that the University is serious about tackling Climate Change."

On the Council's proposed report he said, "Whilst we welcome the University Council's proposal to commission a separate report, we note that they had the opportunity to engage in serious discussion last year, when Zero Carbon submitted a 74 page report on divestment. This opportunity was wasted."

Diverse opinions were on display at the discussion of the divestment proposal on the 22nd of November. At the time, Professor Lawrence King of the Department of Sociology told Varsity that he “welcomed” the Grace and hoped that it would pass. However, Professor Michael McIntyre complained that it was "too blunt an instrument.” 

A short history of the University’s green investment campaigns

In addition to this announcement in The Reporter on Wednesday, the Council published a notice in response to that discussion.

They acknowledged the general consensus that climate change is a threat and that there is a need to find alternatives to fossil fuels but noted that opinion was split on how the University investment policy should be adapted.  

In the notice the Council reminds readers that they endorsed the establishment of the ACBELA working group, discussed the results and decided not to mandate divestment from extraction industries, also endorsing the ACBELA recommendations. These were “intended to expand the alignment of the University’s expectations in respect of ESG (environmental, social and governance) factors and its investment practices.”