In what student campaigners are celebrating as a “historic victory,” Cambridge University has pledged to divest completely from fossil fuels by 2030, and to be emissions-free across its entire investment portfolio by 2038.
Cambridge has already mapped out the steps to achieving these milestones, reports the BBC, with “plans to withdraw investments with conventional energy-focused public equity managers by December 2020, build up significant investments in renewable energy by 2025, and divest from all meaningful exposure in fossil fuels by 2030.” As well, “all future research funding and donations will need to demonstrate compatibility with its greenhouse gas emissions-cutting objective” to have any hope of acceptance.
“Climate change, ecological destruction, and biodiversity loss present an urgent existential threat, with severe risks to humankind and all other life on Earth,” said Tilly Franklin, the university’s chief investment officer. “The investment office has responded to those threats by pursuing a strategy that aims to support and encourage the global transition to a carbon-neutral economy.”
In its coverage of how the university has “raised the bar on fossil fuel divestment,” Grist notes that the “two-pronged” decision by the 800-year-old (plus) institution to divest from fossils and achieve net-zero emissions across its investment portfolio is a global first. Such a comprehensive approach stands in contrast to that of Harvard University, which earlier this year “became the first university to announce it would aim for net-zero by 2050 across its $40.9-billion endowment”—but without divesting from fossils.
“How it will accomplish this remains a mystery—the Ivy League school has yet to lay out any interim goals or concrete steps it will take,” adds Grist.
The decision to divest is not always clearcut for many universities—even when the administration does agree that climate action is necessary, Grist notes. “Should it pull its money out of fossil fuels, or use its leverage as a shareholder to attempt to change companies’ behaviour?” While studies under way have yet to reach an answer to this question, “research on past divestment campaigns, like the movement to divest from South Africa during apartheid, shows that they don’t inflict much damage to companies’ bottom lines.”
However, divestment campaigns can “still be a powerful tool to influence social discourse, which in turn can affect government policy and corporate strategy,” Grist writes.