Students from Cambridge Zero Carbon protest fossil fuel investment at the BP InstituteMathias Gjesdal Hammer

Peterhouse, the University’s oldest college, has announced that it has withdrawn its direct investments in the fossil fuels industry, becoming the first Cambridge college to do so.

The decision was conveyed to Peterhouse’s JCR president in a meeting this morning. The governing body is said to be considering the environmental impact of the college’s investments carefully for the future. It is currently unclear as to when the decision to withdraw the funds took place.

Because of the college’s involvement in unit funds - a type of asset fund whereby the college does not manage the investment directly - Peterhouse may still have money invested indirectly in fossil fuels. These would be more difficult to withdraw, as they are controlled by asset managers rather than the college itself.

It was previously reported that Peterhouse had parts of its endowment invested in the energy company Shell. In recent months, several colleges were revealed to have large amounts invested in the fossil fuels industry. Emmanuel was alleged to have an investment of £1,595,000 in the energy company Total, while Selwyn had direct investments of £660,000 in Exxon, and £830,000 in Shell.

A spokesperson for the college told Varsity: “Peterhouse sold its investments in Shell at the beginning of this year. The decision was taken for a variety of reasons, including on economic grounds and because of more general concerns about the fossil fuel industry.

“The College operates an ethical investment policy. Whilst having regard to the requirements of charity law to maximise returns, the investment committee periodically discusses the appropriateness of particular current or potential investments, and will decline to invest in areas which it believes to be in conflict with the charitable purposes of the College.


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“We are also mindful and respectful of the diverse views of College members on these often complex matters. In common with many other investors, we decline to invest in the tobacco industry. When it comes to fossil fuel related investments, the College is awaiting the outcome of discussions on this issue in the University.”

Cambridge University itself is reported to have invested £377,431,354 in fossil fuels, equivalent to 6.4% of its total endowment fund.

Peterhouse’s announcement was spurred, in part, by a recent motion passed by its JCR to condemn fossil fuel investments by the University and the college. Similar motions have been passed through seven other student representative bodies and by the Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU), according to a recent press report by Zero Carbon, a student society campaigning for divestment.

When contacted, a Zero Carbon spokesperson told Varsity that the society is “delighted” by the news, calling it “a first in Cambridge history”. They called for the University and its other constituent colleges to remove their direct and indirect funding from fossil fuels and “cease” to “profit from climate catastrophe”.

Zero Carbon believes that Peterhouse is the first Cambridge college to announce a decision to divest publicly. Of Oxbridge in general, Wolfson College, Oxford is the only other college known to have divested from thermal coal and oil sands, according to the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign.

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