Both groups campaign for their universities to divest from the fossil fuel industryLouis Ashworth

According to People and Planet estimates, Cambridge and Oxford universities have a combined fossil fuel investment of over £440 million.

Most Cantabs are familiar with Cambridge’s Zero Carbon Society, which has organised everything from marches to hunger strikes to occupations in their fight to force divestment.

Zero Carbon’s Oxford counterpart, the Oxford Climate Justice Campaign (OCJC), was thrown into the spotlight last month with the occupation of the quad at St. John’s College, Oxford. The action resulted in a letter of support from alumni, and led to the College making adjustments to their ethical investments committee.

OCJC has been running for eight years at Oxford, where three colleges-Balliol, St. Hilda’s and Wadham- have divested in response to student pressure. Zero Carbon, in contrast, was founded in 2007 and relaunched in 2015. Four Cambridge colleges-Emmanuel, Jesus, Clare Hall and Downing-have taken action on divestment from fossil fuels so far.

In 2015, OCJC had what they describe as a “minor victory, when the University declared a screen on all future investments in coal and tar sands”. However, OCJC told Varsity that this was a “hollow gesture, as it did not result in any money being moved”.

Both OCJC and ZC have published open letters directed towards their respective Universities and signed by hundreds of academics, staff and students. They have also both conducted actions at fossil fuel company recruitment events from corporations such as Shell and BP.

In 2019, Zero Carbon blockaded Cambridge’s BP Institute twice and activists disrupted a lecture being delivered by a BP chemist at the Department of Chemistry. Members of the group also protested at BP recruitment events and at a careers fair.

Zero Carbon has also criticized Cambridge Zero, a climate research program launched by the University last year, accusing it of “greenwashing” Cambridge’s links to fossil fuel industries. The group described it as little more than a “public relations stunt, designed to convince the gullible and divert attention away from the University’s continuing link to oil and gas.”

In November, campaign groups including Zero Carbon faced Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope, the Director of Cambridge Zero and other members of the University leadership at a divestment debate held as part of CUSU’s Ethical Affairs Conference. While the importance of tackling the climate crisis was acknowledged, the University still stopped short of committing to divestment and presented a divided front on its climate strategy.

At Oxford, over ​800 alumni vowed​ to withhold donations unless the University fully divested, including public figures like George Monbiot and solar entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett. The Cambridge Campaign has been supported by the likes of Rowan Williams and Noam Chomsky.

The two campaigns collaborated on a direct action at the Oxford-Cambridge ​Boat Race in both 2018 and 2019. Last year, they dropped a banner which read ‘Oxbridge come clean’ over Hammersmith Bridge, which was prevented by the police.


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OCJC told Varsity that the two campaigns “have frequently been involved in matching actions, that when put together increase the profile of student divestment campaigning… We stand in solidarity as campaigns, and support each other both in person and through amplification on social media”.

OCJC described Zero Carbon as “inspiring and impressive… [we] are glad that our two campaigns complement each other in highlighting the moral responsibility of our country’s most powerful educational institutions. We hope to continue working together in the future.”

Cambridge Zero Carbon commented that “given the unique structure of Oxbridge... [the campaigns] can very usefully point to successes at colleges at the other institution when talking to bursars regarding divestment.”

Following the occupation of St. Johns, Oxford, Zero Carbon issued a statement ’“in solidarity with Oxford Climate Justice Campaign”, saying, “Oxbridge are shamefully lagging behind in their refusal to acknowledge their complicity [in Climate change] and instead take meaningful action.”

“We call upon both Oxford and Cambridge, along with their colleges, to Divest Now!”

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