The Grace was approved automatically after meeting with no challenge within Regent HouseLouis Ashworth

A Grace to put into effect full divestment from fossil fuels has been approved by Regent House.

The Grace requires 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.”

It also requires “the Council to publish a Report to the University within twelve months setting out how this is to be achieved.”

While Regent House is the sovereign body of the University, it cannot directly control its investments. This is the responsibility of the University Council, which has previously shown reluctance to divest. Although the Grace carries substantial moral weight, it will ultimately be the decision of the Council whether or not to divest from fossil fuel companies.

In a notice in response to the Grace, the Council wrote: “In adopting this course, the members of Council are mindful that the Grace cannot operate as a mandate in respect of the exercise of their fiduciary responsibility for the University’s investment practices.”

Cambridge currently does not directly invest in coal and tar sands. However, until now it has been investing in oil and gas companies.

Over the last year, the group Zero Carbon Cambridge have been pushing for an end to investment in fossil fuels. Students from this campaign group put pressure on Regent House last term in a discussion on divestment, having launched a petition which gained over 2,300 signatures from university affiliates supporting their cause.

Chris Galpin of Zero Carbon told Varsity, “We're very pleased that the Grace submitted to Regent House has passed, and that the University of Cambridge is now one step closer to fossil fuel divestment. This is a great victory for our campaign, and we hope that it will send a message to the world that the University is serious about tackling climate change.”

However, he also said that the University Council’s response had “raised concerns” that it would not respect the result.

“Its members have only accepted to ‘commission a report on the advantages and disadvantages of the policy of divestment’,” said Galpin. “This falls far short of what was called for in the Grace, and if Council continues to disregard the will of Regent House this sets a very dangerous precedent for the future of democratic decision-making in the University.

Regent House is now committed to fossil fuel divestment, and has mandated the Council to publish a report within twelve months setting out how this will be achieved. Unfortunately, we won't be able to start celebrating until we've seen evidence that the University Council will adhere to this decision.

For University Council to ignore not only the united calls of both students and academics, but also the university's democratic structures, would be little short of outrageous.”

A spokesperson for the University told Varsity: “The University seeks to invest responsibly in order to carry out its charitable mission, which is 'to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence'.

"The University Council respects the views of the Regent House, while remaining conscious that responsibility for investment matters rests solely with the Council, not with the Regent House, and so this Grace is advisory rather than mandatory.

"The Council recognises the concerns around climate change. It also has to take its investment responsibilities very seriously as these fund key research and education about, among other things, the reasons for and solutions to climate change. As a result, it is commissioning a report to understand the consequences of any divestment from fossil fuel companies, including for its teaching and research programmes.

"Pending the outcome of the report, the University will continue to pursue a policy of 'active engagement' with fund managers to ensure that the interests and values of the University are reflected in how holdings are acquired, managed and traded.”