Members of University Council leaving today's divestment meetingMathias Gjesdal Hammer

Cambridge remains undecided on whether to divest amid the release of the long-awaited recommendations of its working group on what was expected by many to be ‘Divestment D-Day’, a term coined by activists who have been campaigning for a commitment to full divestment.

The question of whether the University Council will accept recommendations by the divestment working group, including the goal of carbon neutrality by 2040, is still unclear after hours of deliberation.

Cambridge has failed to decide whether to commit to full divestment of the University’s endowment, despite the expectation that the Council would reach its verdict today.

A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge has said that “the Council welcomes the final report of the Divestment Working Group, and agrees that the University must use its position to provide global leadership in the transition to a carbon-neutral future. The Council did not complete its deliberations on the report’s recommendations during today’s meeting, but will return to provide a detailed response urgently.”

The University of Cambridge divestment working group report has recommended the following measures, among others:

  • The University should commit to being carbon neutral by 2040
  • 100% of the University’s energy should come from renewable sources by 2030
  • The University should not invest in thermal coal or tar sands directly or indirectly
  • “10% of indirect investment should be placed with funds that embrace environmental, social and governance funds that are “consistent with a carbon neutral future”
  • The University should commit to the UN Principles of Responsible Investment
  • The Investment Office should become increasingly transparent about its investment processes through an annual report, with “information on environmental and social funds”, as well as an “informative website”
  • The University should join the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, “or an alternative equivalent”, “to ensure it lends its voice and authority in engagement with industry”
  • A Centre for a carbon-neutral future should be established to combine research on energy production and use, climate, sustainability, and policy

Speaking to Varsity, CUSU President and University Council member Daisy Eyre said: “While some of the recommendations of the DWG report are exciting and positive, such as investing in ESG [Environmental Social and Governance] funds, this does not negate the fundamental reality that if we do not fully divest (which the DWG [Divestment Working Group] report does not recommend), we are ignoring a democratic Grace of Regent House and the voices of many members of the University community.”

Angus Satow, a founding member of Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, criticised the draft recommendations, arguing, “the University cannot be carbon-neutral if it is still funding climate breakdown.”

READ: The full working group report

The Divestment Working Group presented its full report today, recommending "considered divestment" and a range of green measures.

In anticipation of a decision today, Cambridge Zero Carbon Society organised a rally of over 200 students outside the Old Schools building, as members of the University Council met this morning to discuss the final report.

Cambridge Zero Carbon Society labelled the announcement “an opportunity for Council to take the lead and commit to full divestment”, and called on the Council to “consult with students and staff before the planned extraordinary meeting.”

They added: “Today is a success for Zero Carbon's escalation. Council now have the opportunity to decide whether they will capitulate to unelected financial bureaucrats, or whether they will listen to the clear democratic will of the University's members.” The students plan to continue the occupation of Greenwich House “until a commitment to full divestment is made”.

Today’s University Council discussion was viewed as the final step in the three-year debate over whether to fully divest, marking the culmination of a year-long consultation with stakeholders across the University.


Mountain View

Everything you need to know about the divestment debate

The announcement today leaves a series of unanswered questions, centering around how the University is going to respond to the recommendations in the report. The fact that the Council’s decision will be delayed until further deliberations are held indicates that the Council is not yet willing to accept the recommendations of the working group without question.

Cambridge’s £6.3 billion endowment – the largest of any university in the UK – is managed mostly through indirect investments by external, third-party fund managers, and overseen by the University’s Investment Office.

The future of the University’s investments remain imbued with uncertainty.

Today’s announcement leaves the question open as to how long students on hunger strike will continue their protest. At Greenwich House in West Cambridge, the third day of a student occupation led by Zero Carbon is also underway.

The University’s delay in publishing the entirety of the report continues prolonged uncertainty over recommendations of the working group. The University currently does not have direct holdings in tar sands and thermal coal companies, and has described their indirect holdings as “negligible”.

An earlier draft of the working group report leaked to Varsity in February proposed minor improvements to the University’s current policy, suggesting that the University commit 10% of its endowment to explicitly environmentally-conscious funds.

The University has said that the Council will continue deliberations on the working group report in “an extra meeting”, before the next scheduled monthly discussion of the University Council on Monday 18th June.