XR held a sit in protesting the University's investments in oil and gasAlex Parnham-Cope

Cambridge University’s environmental policy has been ranked at the bottom end of a 2ii class in an independent league table of UK universities ranked by environmental and ethical performance by People & Planet, the largest student climate and environmental justice network in the UK.

Ranked 84th in the environmental League Table out of a possible 153 institutions, down two places from last year, the report suggests that the University has not met emissions targets. Cambridge sits below Anglia Ruskin, ranked in the mid 2:ii class, and significantly below Oxford University, sitting at a comfortable 2:i, ranked 41st. First class universities include Bristol, LSE and KCL.

The Findings of the People & Planet’s Survey

Based on the University’s publicly available environmental policy, People & Planet found that the University is working to target Emissions and Discharges and Biodiversity, but is neglecting to set targets for other areas such as Construction & Refurbishment; Waste Management; Travel and Transport and Sustainable Procurement.

“The University scored zero out of five for its commitment to reinvest divested funds.”

After a long year of climate protests in Cambridge, the University was scored zero out of five for its commitment in policies to reinvest divested funds in renewable energy or community-owned energy. However, its Carbon Emission Plan is consistent with the 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, with at least one milestone towards this target being set before 2030. The evaluation also comprised metrics associated with workers’ rights and the use of a ‘Can’t Buy My Silence’ pledge, which makes Non-Disclosure Agreements unenforceable for anything other than sharing intellectual property.

Varsity reached out to Thomas Idris Marquand, a PhD student working in the Department of Earth Sciences. Thomas studied Natural Sciences as an undergraduate and started working as a supervisor this year. He hopes to use his experience as a climate scientist to help undergraduate students understand what they can do to productively contribute to addressing the climate crisis and help shape the University’s climate agenda

Thomas’ Advice: How can students help combat the Climate Crisis?

Tackling climate change is not always as black and white as we environmentalists would like it to be. Some fantasise about a technological saviour whilst others think that the solution is anything with the word ‘organic’ plastered on it. Our passion is all too easily misdirected, and our gut instinct often overruns our reason. In many cases, the rough stroke of common sense must be refined by careful research and evidence.

Pinning down complex environmental problems is my full-time occupation at the moment; my PhD is all about how our use of land affects greenhouse gas production and consumption. I feel very fortunate to take on a topic which attracts such passionate input from so many of the people I meet. In that vein, the mass mobilisation of climate activism, not least amongst Cambridge students, over the last few years has been really inspiring.

However, I sometimes worry that my protesting peers do not always direct their praiseworthy passion to the most effective environmental solutions. The climate system is complex and environmental problems entangled. How can we strike the balance between recognising nuances and motivating people, governments and corporations to make necessary changes?

So many of the environmental issues that seem simple at first glance raise deeper questions on further consideration. For example, organic farming produces less food from the same amount of land; if we switch to environmentally friendly, low-productivity farming practices, we will need to import more food from abroad or convert more wild land to farmland. Electric cars present another complex balance of pros and cons. While the pros are generally accepted to win out, questions remain as to how we can ethically, safely and sustainably produce and recycle the rare metals needed to build their batteries. There are even legitimate, though unpopular, arguments against divestment. Being a shareholder gives you more sway over a corporation than being an outside voice; granted, this approach has failed in the past.

Personally, I am hopeful that ‘green steel’ is close at hand and that new lithium sources (for example, Cornish Lithium) or novel battery technologies will help to mitigate the impact of electric car batteries. I am yet to be convinced by organic farming and a number of other popular environmental talking points. I do not want anyone to lose their passion for protecting our environment and mitigating climate change, but I do hope though that my fervent friends will take the time to consider the best solutions to the multifaceted challenges we face before painting their banners.


Mountain View

Fusion power: Still a long way to go

Thomas hopes that “we environmentalists are able to question our instincts, pursue the truth and argue from a strong basis of knowledge. There are few quick fixes to tackle climate change and every issue can be approached from multiple angles. We live in a rough information landscape, with abundant misinformation from all sides and, while there is always a danger of getting caught up in the argument, we must not ignore legitimate nuances. So, embrace the complexity, beware the false dichotomy, and direct your passion toward effective solutions!”

Clarissa Salmon, Climate Activist and Green Officer on the Caius JCR, responds to both the Climate Survey and Thomas’ comments:

“It is essential to understand the nuance within climate solutions, and I don’t think any activist will claim that we can accomplish a just transition without technological innovation. However, placing too much emphasis on big tech as our saviour often comes at the price of ignoring the systemic inequalities it creates and which are main causes of climate change: global racism, ableism, oppression of workers, sexism (the list goes on). As students and activists, we have the power to campaign for transformative futures which use the climate crisis as an opportunity to address interlocking systems of oppression.

“As students, we can hold the University accountable, and that means pushing for more, not because we jump to negativity, but because we want the best possible futures.”