Campaigners staged a sit-in this week against the University's fossil fuel linksXR Cambridge with permission for Varsity

Cambridge has “no detailed plan” for its carbon reduction goals, according to an annual report on the University’s management structures.

The report of the Audit Committee, which assesses the University’s “regulatory compliance” every year, found that there is a “lack of allocated funding to enable the delivery” of Cambridge’s carbon targets.

In 2020, the University pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2038. Many of the commitments behind this promise fell upon the University Endowment Fund, whose goals include collating “significant investment” in renewables by 2025, divestment from “meaningful exposure” in fossil fuels by 2030, and net zero emissions across its investment portfolio by 2038.

There is no “detailed plan for the medium-term delivery of these targets,” the audit found, with “no key performance indicators to assess progress”.

The committee also noted a “lack of governance to support the implementation of decarbonisation interventions within a realistic timeframe”.

Jason Scott-Warren, an English professor and member of University Council, told Varsity: “The University has ambitious emissions reduction plans but it has been slow to put them into action. Our tolerance of failure in this area is linked to our wider inability to grasp the level of threat from climate collapse.”

Sam Hutton, Chair of the SU’s Ethical Affairs campaign, said: “There is some good progress being made in starting to decarbonise Cambridge; but, as we know, this action is not fast enough. This latest audit proves the critiques students have been making about the lack of a costed plan, and about how working groups are not able to consistently commit to timelines for better climate policy.”

“There is still no commitment to stop installing new gas boilers, the biggest next step in reducing scope 1 and 2 emissions, and no timeline on getting the actual emissions below targets rather than just the market-based emissions. This cannot be yet another example of university governance failing us all on the climate crisis,” Hutton said.

Fergus Kirman, SU President and member of University Council, told Varsity: “The University’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions from all its activities to net zero by 2038 is an integral part of its approach to the climate crisis. We risk losing credibility as a world-leading institution in climate research if the University fails to deliver decarbonisation of the estate on the timeline promised.”

“Students will rightly be concerned by the Audit Committee’s report, and will question when the funding and governance support will become available to deliver serious interventions. We are missing the wood for the trees if we allow scrutiny of the University’s progress towards net zero to be entirely sidelined in favour of other issues like funding from fossil fuel companies,” Kirman said.


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The audit committee’s remarks come after academics voted down proposals to create a pro-vice-chancellor for sustainability, who could have facilitated a “reset in approach” for Cambridge’s green agenda, according to University Council.

The motion to create the role was initially passed by the Vice-Chancellor, before pressure from academics forced Dr Prentice into a U-turn, putting the proposal to a vote, where it was defeated.

The University’s next steps in the wake of this defeat are uncertain. Academics proposed a motion to ban all new funded collaborations with the fossil fuel industry late last month, but the University Council is yet to make clear its intentions on this proposal.

Earlier this month, a Cambridge pro-vice-chancellor told a student forum that he doesn’t see “explicit evidence” that oil companies use partnerships with the University to greenwash.

The University of Cambridge was contacted for comment.