Mon, Jun 17 2024 17 June, 2024

Cambridge University told to halt fossil fuel funding

Cambridge University should stop receiving fossil fuel funding from companies including Shell and BP, a new report recommends.

A view of King's College Chapel, Cambridge University (Photo credit: Gas Outlook/Picturellarious)

Cambridge University should stop receiving fossil fuel funding from companies including Shell and BP as it looks to step up its climate efforts and align policy with its own decarbonization goals, an independent report has recommended.

The study, commissioned by Cambridge last year amid calls from some academics to cease collaboration with the fossil fuel industry, said the two energy giants should be rated ‘red’ instead of ‘amber’ under the university’s climate change classification system, as they still fall short of “the absolute emissions reductions necessary to link their businesses” to Paris Agreement goals.

This would stop the British university from receiving money from these companies for research or philanthropic purposes.

Non-funded technical collaboration however, would still be allowed under the recommendations, which are expected to be accepted by Cambridge, according to media reports.

Cambridge University received an average £3.3 million per year over the last 6 years from fossil fuel companies, accounting for just 0.4% of research and philanthropy funding and 0.1% of its total university income.

Despite the marginal sums, continuing to engage with fossil fuel companies poses risks for the university’s reputation as it would be in stark contrast with its climate neutrality goals, the report, which is authored by former UN climate action champion Nigel Topping, said.

Critics also fear that fossil fuel groups might leverage their financial power to skew research into the effects of their businesses on climate.

Cambridge University has a goal of absolute net zero scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2038. In 2020, it also pledged to divest its £3.5 billion endowment from all direct and indirect fossil fuel investments by 2030.

“As Shell and BP scale back their climate targets during a worsening climate crisis, the case for Fossil Free Research is clearer than ever” Bogdan Rajkov, spokesman for student group Cambridge Climate Justice, told Gas Outlook.

Fossil Free Research is an international student organization that lobbies to disentangle higher education and climate-related research from the fossil fuel industry.

“When Cambridge University collaborates with these companies, its talk of climate leadership rings empty.”

“This report confirms the case students and staff have built for years; now it must stop dragging its feet and cut ties with polluters.”

At the same time “the significance of these wins is hampered by the loopholes within the report’s recommendations,” Adam Waters, another spokesman for Cambridge Climate Justice told Gas Outlook.

“Particularly concerning is the suggestion that the University of Cambridge should continue non-financial cooperation with the fossil fuel industry and should take money from fossil fuel companies’ tiny ‘green’ subsidiaries.”

“In the short term, it’s crucial the University is held accountable to its promises and Topping’s conclusions,” he continued.

“The University’s own committees have deemed oilfield services provider Schlumberger inappropriate to work with, yet it retains a presence on campus and has a funded research institute named after it.”

“We need to ensure Fossil Free Research doesn’t suffer from further walkbacks, and the University changes its funding policies as recommended.”

“Over time, we must address these decisions’ shortcomings and push for a comprehensive cutting of ties between universities and polluters, while encouraging other educational institutions to do the same,” he said.

Pressure grows on colleges

The news come amid growing calls of environmental campaigners for universities to take a more decisive stance on climate change, and follows a number of similar cases globally.

Last year, Princeton University said it would cut financial ties with 90 major emitters in the thermal coal and tar sands segments of the fossil fuel industry, including Glencore and ExxonMobil. It also said it would eliminate all holdings in fossil fuel companies.

Last April, VU Amsterdam also said it would stop collaborating with fossil fuel companies that fail to comply with the Paris Agreement.

In early 2022, student groups at leading universities including Yale, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and Vanderbilt wrote to the attorney generals of their respective states saying the institutions were breaking the law by investing in fossil fuel companies.

Divestment by major institutions such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) “can help to greatly increase the social stigma around fossil fuels, thus pressuring policy-makers to adopt stronger legislation to combat climate change, and causing companies to implement environmentally-friendly practices,” according to student group MIT Divest.

“The fossil fuel industry has more power and resources than us,” Jake Lowe, executive director of Fossil Free Research told Gas Outlook.

“They have a decades-long track record of misleading the public on the realities of the climate crisis in order to protect their bottom line.”

“While we are encouraged by efforts at Cambridge and elsewhere to reconsider their ties to Big Oil, we still have a long way to go in achieving a truly fossil free higher education system,” he added.