The protest was co-ordinated with the Oxford University divestment campaign, using the hashtag "Come Clean"Josh Kimblin

The University came under increased pressure this week to divest from fossil fuel companies, as students staged a protest in the city centre, and academics called for a discussion about where Cambridge invests its £6.3 billion endowment.

A motion was also submitted for the final CUSU Council of term, calling on the students’ union to take a more proactive stance in the debate surrounding divestment. The moves come after analysis of the Paradise Papers revealed that Cambridge had put money into a fund that is heavily invested in fossil fuel companies.

On Tuesday this week, the divestment movement staged another protest against the University of Cambridge’s investment in fossil fuel industries, with a march through the city centre.

A group of over sixty protesters, representing Zero Carbon Society Cambridge, marched from Magdalene Bridge to the Old Schools at midday. Holding a large banner and brandishing orange placards, they chanted and banged pots and pans. Passers-by stopped to watch, as some took photos.

This was the second ‘Emergency Protest’ to take place this week, following the disruption of a Careers Service event attended by BP and Shell last Thursday. During that protest, protestors with black paint on their hands staged a sit-in in front of the companies’ stalls.

Speaking to Varsity after the event, Rufus Jordana, a member of the Zero Carbon Society, said: “Today we marched and protested to condemn Cambridge’s complicity in the Paradise Papers scandal and its undeclared holdings in the fossil fuel industry.”

“It is fully reasonable to expect that the University of Cambridge, whose mission statement is to ‘contribute to society,’ should not hold investments in an industry which is speeding the planet and organised human life to destruction.”

“Cambridge has offered us repeated assurances that it holds minimal investments in the fossil fuel industry. Ignoring student motions, petitions, and academic votes, it has offered nothing more than an empty ethical investment policy, as well as another Working Group, which nobody asked for. The Paradise Papers show that Cambridge has invested in oil exploration and drilling – and that their empty platitudes are lies.”

The protest was arranged in co-ordination with the Oxford Climate Justice campaign, who rallied last Friday. Both groups are using the hashtag ‘#ComeClean’, as part of a wider campaign for transparency in university investments.

Angus Satow, press officer for the Zero Carbon Society, wrote in a press release that the groups hope “to put pressure on their Universities to establish a substantive and transparent ethical investment policy.”


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Divestment movement marches on, with demonstrations and town hall meetings

Josh Kimblin

The same press release noted an escalation in the Society’s demands of the University. “Alongside divestment from offshore funds and fossil fuels, Zero Carbon are now also calling for a full declaration of where the University is investing, a public apology for its investment practices and the establishment of a student and academic-led ethical investment policy.”

In addition to the protest, a number of academics in their role as members of Regent House, the University’s governing body, called for a “discussion of the University’s investments, as a topic of concern to the University”.

The request was submitted by 21 academics, including Dr Robert Macfarlane, Dr Nicholas Guyatt, and Rev Jeremy Caddick. Caddick is a long-standing supporter of the divestment movement, having been one of the signatories of the inter-faith statement on divestment released in early November.

The letter called on the University to lead by example, and “continue [the] process of shaping the world for the better”. At the time, Caddick told Varsity “the statement highlights the way that the world’s faith traditions have a huge amount to say about how and why we value the natural world”, adding “it isn’t just ours to destroy”.

Among the other signatories of the inter-faith letter were Dr Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury and master of Magdalene College, and Dr Tim Winter, Islamic chaplain to the University.

According to this week’s Reporter, the University Council has agreed that the University’s investments will be among the matters for consideration at the Discussion to be held on the 5th December. In addition, the vice-chancellor, Stephen Toope, has said that the Discussion will be open to all students and staff of the University, and that time allowing, all those who wish to speak on the topic will be permitted to do so.

Action on a more bureaucratic level has not been restricted to academics, however. A motion has been submitted for the CUSU Council of Michaelmas term, which would commit the students’ union to advocating for divestment in a more concrete way than at present. It was put forward by Hattie Hammans and seconded by Angus Satow.

If passed, the CUSU sabbatical team, amounting to six paid employees, would be mandated to make a written submission to the University’s working group on divestment in support of the movement. It would also mandate CUSU president, Daisy Eyre, as well as the other sabbatical officers to lobby on behalf of the divestment movement in all meetings with senior University figures like the vice-chancellor.

An extra £100 would be allocated from the CUSU Council Free Budget for the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society if the motion were passed. Council has already passed a motion in support of divestment in November 2015, which said that it was “morally wrong for the University to invest in fossil fuel reserves”. However, it did not commit CUSU to put pressure on the University in specific contexts.

Much of the motion’s supporting information comes from information revealed by The Guardian and other newspapers from the so-called Panama Papers. The files showed that both Cambridge and the University of Oxford had paid into a fund connected to deep-sea digging and oil exploration.

That fund, called Coller International, was split into two further, separate funds. The largest of those two funds was revealed as having invested in Royal Dutch Shell, an Anglo-Dutch oil company. Two partners of Shell, Xtreme Coil and the Shell Technology Ventures Fund, also benefitted from investment.

A number of colleges were also revealed as having invested in the fund, such as Gonville & Caius and Downing.

Responding to the revelations, Cambridge Zero Carbon said: “These revelations are absolutely scandalous. That the University has been investing tens of millions of pounds in offshore funds to dodge tax is bad enough. That in doing so it has been investing huge quantities in Shell’s deep-sea oil exploits is outrageous.”

The various actions follow the second ‘town hall’ meeting of the University Council’s divestment Working Group, which was held last Thursday, at which Eyre spoke out in support of the movement.

The Working Group was established in May 2017 in response to the grace for divestment passed at Regent House. The meeting sought to remedy the uncertainty over the implications of divestment for Cambridge University, and how the University could use its influence and intellectual capital to take positive steps towards a zero-carbon future.

Rufus Jordana was critical of the Group’s stated aims, saying that the Zero Carbon Society hoped to see “the immediate announcement of full divestment from fossil fuels, and the reorientation of the University Working Group on divestment towards this goal.”

The Working Group expects to report on the advantages and disadvantages of divestment by the end of this academic year

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