Students walked along Senate House passage toward the back gate of Old SchoolsLouis Ashworth

A group of around 200 students gathered this morning in front of Senate House, ahead of the University Council meeting this afternoon where it is expected that the University will make a final decision on whether or not to divest from fossil fuels.

Students held banners and congregated around the gates of Senate House lawn as speeches were given. After around half an hour, the group began walking down Senate House passage, and gathered behind the Old Schools building. Protesters chanted “hey, ho, fossil fuels have got to go,” and sang about divestment to the tune of Beyoncé’s ‘Love on Top’.

Keira Dignan, a Zero Carbon member who spoke at the rally, said individual people are made to feel responsible for climate change, “because you didn't turn your lights off or recycle your yoghurt pots properly,” when large corporations refuse to divest – and “100 corporations produce 71% of emissions.” She added that “you would not fight a house fire with a water gun.”

Angus Satow, former Zero Carbon campaigns officer, spoke at the rallyMathias Gjesdal Hammer
Students let off orange colour bombs, the signature colour of Zero Carbon protestsMathias Gjesdal Hammer
Cambridge University Palestine Society (PalSoc) Chair Ed McNally spoke at the rallyLouis Ashworth

The rally comes after three years of lobbying, and protests from students calling on the University to divest. Past petitions in favour of divestment have been signed by thousands of students, and pro-divestment motions have been passed by Regent House, the Cambridge branch of the University and Colleges Union, CUSU, and the Graduate Union.

Matt Kite, a representative from Cambridge Defend Education and CUSU education officer-elect, drew parallels with student rallies during the academic staff strikes last term. He criticised a tendency to label the University as “complicit” in working with the fossil fuel industry, saying “complicity gives the University the benefit of the doubt,” when “Corporation Cambridge knows what it is,” and the “corporate university will never be a democratic university.”

Master of Trinity Hall Revd Dr Jeremy Morris attempted to enter the Old Schools meeting shortly after 10amLouis Ashworth
Student Rickesh Advani lights a barbecue by Old SchoolsNoella Chye
Security kept an eye on the ralliers from inside of Old Schools lawnLouis Ashworth
King's student Safieh Kabir spoke at the rallyLouis Ashworth

Rufus Jordana, another Zero Carbon representative, spoke on the University Council meeting that was due to begin. He said “every single councillor today who votes against divestment today is a sell-out.” He added: “They are selling out their students, they are selling out future generations, they are selling out the global south … “we are in occupation now and we will continue that.”

Some students opposed the rally, as a few Cambridge University Conservative Association members hovered in the background, and student Rickesh Advani stood alone barbecuing in opposition. He said that he does not “think some people being able to spray paint Senate House is democratic,” when he supports “companies like BP that do nothing wrong, they make profits.” In reference to his barbecue, he said “by burning something, I’m putting stuff in the environment, and showing I don’t care about what goes in the environment when it has a benefit to me.”


Mountain View

Everything you need to know about the divestment debate

The University currently has certain indirect investments of its £6.3bn endowment in fossil fuel companies such as Shell, BP, and ExxonMobil, though the total value of its investments in the sector is unknown. Analysis of the Paradise Papers leak in late 2017 showed that it had invested a total of £1.3m in Guernsey-based private equity firm Coller International, which is channelled principally into oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell.

Earlier this week Zero Carbon activists spray painted the Old Schools building with slogans such as “Cambridge Divest From Fossil Fuels”, flowers and hearts, amid controversy over the Grade I-listed nature of the building and potential damage to the stone.

Several members of Zero Carbon have been on hunger strike since Wednesday, with the three first-years vowing to continue until the University divests. Other climate activists have been taking part in a Zero Carbon occupation of Greenwich House, the University’s administrative centre. These protests have fallen in with the society’s promise to continue to escalate action until the University commits to full divestment.