Trinity is the richest Oxbridge College with an endowment of over £1.2bnLouis Ashworth

Trinity has amended its investment policy to remove all of its public and private investments in the fossil fuel industry by 2031, after years of student campaigning.

It will also strive to achieve net zero carbon emissions before 2050 in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, which advocates this same goal with the aim of limiting the average global temperature rise to 1.5°C.

According to a press release from the College to Varsity, there are three principal stages to Trinity’s divestment process.

First, it will extend its list of investment exclusions to “all companies that generate significant revenues from the extraction, supply, or distribution of fossil fuel”. It will divest from all remaining fossil fuel exposure in public equities by the end of 2021, representing 95% of its current holdings in the fossil fuel industry.

Once this is achieved, its remaining private equity portfolio, which represents less than 5% of the College’s total fossil fuel exposure, will be divested within the next 5-10 years.

Secondly, Trinity will establish “metrics and interim science-based targets” on which it will report alongside the financial performance of its endowment by the end of 2021, which will “include setting ambitious 5 and 10-year targets.”

Finally, the College is to commission “a detailed baseline study of the endowment’s existing carbon footprint” by the end of April 2021, in order to “build a roadmap to net zero” by the end of August 2021. The baseline and roadmap will cover the entirety of Trinity’s portfolio, including securities and property, and “will define net zero using the broadest definition, including both direct and indirect emissions.”

The decision to divest comes as over 100 Trinity Alumni sent an open letter to the College in January, calling on them “to take the well-worn path of divestment” and “add its weight to the political momentum that is already undermining the fossil fuel industry.”

Trinity College is the richest Oxbridge college, with a total endowment of over £1.2bn over double the size of St John’s College - the second richest Cambridge College.

According to a 2018 Varsity investigation Trinity College had at least £9.1 million directly invested in companies involved in oil and gas production, extraction and exploration. The same investigation found that £8.2 million was held in one of the 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions.

Following this investigation, Trinity Responsible Investment Society (TRIS) was launched and gained backing for divestment from the undergraduate and graduate societies.

2020 saw Trinity face external pressure with Extinction Rebellion activists digging up the iconic front lawn in February 2020 and internal pressure from TRIS and an alumni campaign resulting in the Climate Change working group recommending full divestment.

In a press release to Varsity, TRIS praised the College’s transition “from laggard to leader”; meanwhile, Trinity Alumni for Divestment noted “the college is sending a powerful political message: that it will no longer support the most destructive industry on the planet”

Trinity’s divestment commitment comes after the central University’s decision in October to fully divest all direct and indirect investments in fossil fuels by 2030, following a five-year student-led campaign.

In the College’s statement to Varsity, Senior Bursar Richard Turnill said that “while challenging”, the “ambitious plan” to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is “achievable and consistent with the College’s income growth objectives.”

Turnill added: “Climate change is an issue that matters deeply to Trinity and, last year, we undertook an extensive consultation process on climate change that included Fellows, students, other colleges and external experts [...] We will move rapidly where we can, starting with divestment from all fossil fuel exposure in our public equities this year.”

Meanwhile Dame Sally Davies, Master of Trinity College, spoke of the new investment approach as “a significant step in Trinity’s journey to addressing climate change.”

She continued: “This is clearly an issue that extends beyond the endowment. The WHO cited climate change, along with pandemics, as one of the key global health challenges of the 2020s and we at Trinity intend to bring together expertise both within and beyond the College to play a greater role in further climate change action.”


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Pembroke commits to full divestment by end of 2023

TRIS commended the commitment to carbon neutrality, arguing “Trinity College has shown that divestment is only the first step for responsible investors in a longer journey toward a just and sustainable future”

This was echoed by the Alumni campaign who emphasised divestment was only “a first step to discharging Trinity’s responsibility, as a wealthy institution situated in the Global North, to frontline communities suffering first and worst from climate impacts”.

In the press release, they called on Trinity to “leverage its significant endowment to make positive change by severing its ties with all destructive industries, including arms and industrial agriculture.”

In a similar vein, Cambridge Zero Carbon said: “as long as Trinity maintains investments in arms companies, and banks with Barclays - the biggest funder of fossil fuel infrastructure in Europe - there is still work to be done. We continue to demand that Cambridge University and Colleges urgently sever all ties with destructive industries.”

To date, three out of the 31 constituent colleges, Christ’s, Clare Hall and Pembroke have committed to terminating both direct and indirect investment from the fossil fuel industry. A further 12— Newnham, Robinson, St John’s, Fitzwilliam, Selwyn, Emmanuel, Downing, Peterhouse, Queens’, Lucy Cavendish, Jesus, and Trinity Hall—have publicly committed to partial divestment.

The announcement from Trinity comes as Pembroke became the third and most recent constituent college to commit to full divestment from the fossil fuel industry on Wednesday (17/02). Pembroke aims to make “all reasonable efforts” to fully divest by 2023.