Cambridge has been criticised for its decision-making around climate policy in the wake of the Topping StudyROSIE BRADBURY/COMPOSITE: NOELLA CHYE

Cambridge University is set to suspend all new funded collaborations with the fossil fuel industry.

University Council has authorised a motion, tabled by academics in January, calling for the temporary moratorium.

The Council also affirmed its commitment to creating new leadership “to drive forward the University’s sustainability plans,” after a motion to create a new pro-vice-chancellor to lead the University’s climate strategy was rejected by Regent House in January.

Regent House is the democratic body which comprises 7,200 staff and academics of the University.

The motion to ban all new partnerships with oil and gas called for “a temporary moratorium on new funded collaborations with fossil fuel companies, including subsidiaries, to hold until new arrangements are in place”.

The Committee on Benefactions, External and Legal Affairs (CBELA), which reviews donations and funded partnerships before accepting them, will be encouraged to defer making decisions until new climate policy is put in place.

However, the Council’s submission of the motion makes an exception for “funding proposals from wholly or partially owned subsidiaries of fossil fuel companies, which (as recommended in the Topping Study) will continue to be considered on their own merits”.

The Topping Study, commissioned by Cambridge and published in July, found that accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry poses “high reputational risk” to the University.

Jason Scott-Warren, a fellow at Caius and one of the proposers of the motion, said: “A temporary ban on new funded relationships with fossil fuel companies was the very least that the University should have offered in response to Topping, given his insistence on their high reputational risk.”

“A precautionary approach would also have taken in greenwashing subsidiary companies. The University is clearly not interested in taking precautions, even as the fate of the planet hangs in the balance,” he said.

The University defended its actions to date, saying that fossil fuel companies make a “relatively small part” of the University’s income. They also claimed that the University does not accept funding that would be incompatible with their, “commitment to address climate change through a transition to a zero‑carbon world.”


Mountain View

Pro-Palestine activist slashes Trinity College painting

After the failure of the proposals to create a new PVC for sustainability, the Council acknowledged more work should have been done to “provide enough information to explain its plans for the new office.”

Jason Scott-Warren said: “The plan for a PVC for Climate and Sustainability fell because of a lack of trust following from the reception of the Topping Report. The University displayed a fundamental lack of good faith in ducking the challenge of that report.”

The CBELA is currently under a review process in response to the recommendations made in the Topping report. The Council expects this to be done by Easter 2024 but there is no detail on whether the moratorium will remain in place after this review.

The moratorium will pass into University policy unless a vote in Regent House is triggered by academics.

The University of Cambridge was contacted for comment.