A Zero Carbon rally in 2018Louis Ashworth

Cambridge University has accepted a £6m donation from multinational oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell in March, The Guardian has revealed today.

The donation will fund research into oil extraction technology by a Cambridge University research group. This comes amid continued protests by students and staff calling on Cambridge to cut all investment and sponsorship relationships with fossil fuels companies.

Shell’s donation was approved by the University in March, however details were not included among other financial disclosures in July, when donations are typically announced.

Earlier this year, University management agreed to explore a fossil fuel divestment plan that fully outlines the costs of full divestment. The new report was spurred by a motion presented and signed by 324 academics, and ‘Cambridge Zero’ a new research initiative focused on challenging climate change and pushing toward a zero-carbon future, was launched.

However, this new donation is seen as a major step back. A spokesperson for Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, a group campaigning for the University to cut all links with the fossil fuel industry, explained that the University has been “totally hijacked” by the fossil fuel industry, which continues to make hundreds of millions off Cambridge research which helps to make the process of extraction more efficient.

Sinead Lynch, the chair of Shell UK, was also invited recently to join a policy-making workshop at the University.

“Fossil fuel executives should be in court for their crimes against humanity, not helping determine the policy of leading public research institutions,” the spokesperson for Zero Carbon said.

On Monday over 200 protestors gathered at a mass rally outside Senate House, organised by Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, to protest the University’s links with fossil fuel companies.

This comes after a report released last week by Cambridge Zero Carbon detailed several Cambridge-backed projects in recent years that facilitated oil extraction efforts. Varsity has also revealed that the University has removed all online associations with CASP, a research group funded entirely by subscriptions from oil and gas companies that is described as affiliated with Cambridge.

In a statement to The Guardian on the latest donation, a Cambridge spokesperson commented: “The main focus of Prof [Lynn] Gladden’s proposed research related to the gift is on supporting the transition to a zero-carbon economy by improving chemical reactions in fuel cells, electrolysers and making chemical processes for industrial use more sustainable”.

However, ‘oil recovery’ is among Gladden’s listed areas of research on her Cambridge University page, and she has led the invention of two oil exploration technologies in recent years. According to The Guardian, hydrocarbon recovery will also be among the areas researched with the donation.

In 2019, following the publication of a report by Cambridge’s working group on divestment, it emerged two members of the group, tasked with discussing whether the University should divest from the fossil fuel sector, were found to be directly involved in two major proposed donations to Cambridge in 2017 from mining and petroleum company, BHP Billiton and oil and gas company, BP.

The working group’s final report had informed the University Council’s controversial decision in 2018 to reject calls from across the University for full divestment from the fossil fuels sector.

Lazarus Tamana, European Coordinator of Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MOSOP), a social organisation of the indigenous Ogoni ethnic minority people of South-Eastern Nigeria, has been vocal about the complicity of companies such as Shell in climate change. Tamana said: “Shell has colluded with the Nigerian government to poison our lands, water and air for decades. Our fishermen and farmers are dying, and losing their livelihoods, only for a small elite to profit and extract resources to the Global North.

“Cambridge University should not welcome Shell to do research, buy influence, and greenwash their reputation. Shell should be in the International Court of Justice, pledging to rectify the human and environmental damage that they have brought to Ogoniland. They should not be on campus at the University of Cambridge”.

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