Council statement on the report Divestment: Advantages and Disadvantages for the University of Cambridge

Climate change is the most pressing problem facing humanity. The University of Cambridge has a responsibility to use its position as one of the world’s foremost academic institutions to take a leading role in decarbonising the global economy.

The University Council warmly welcomes the report Divestment: Advantages and Disadvantages for the University of Cambridge by Dr. Ellen Quigley, Emily Bugden and Anthony Odgers, the Chief Financial Officer, delivered to Council on 21 September 2020, and thanks them for exploring the advantages and disadvantages of fossil fuel divestment across its moral, social, political, reputational, and financial dimensions.

The Council enthusiastically endorses the bold proposals it has received from the University’s Investment Office and other parts of the University on how to play a leading global role across all of its endeavours to bring about the transition to a net zero economy.  

The Council greatly appreciates the intense engagement of students and staff who have expressed a wide diversity of views, organised campaigns, and posed questions about the University’s policies on investment, research, operational sustainability and engagement with industry and policy makers.

The Council has agreed an overall strategic aim to reduce carbon emissions from all University activities to net zero by 2038 and has explicitly included its own investments in this target, making the University one of the first of its global peer group to do so. Its endowment fund (the Cambridge University Endowment Fund, or CUEF) will divest from all investments with conventional energy-focused public equity managers by December 2020; and the University aims to have no meaningful direct or indirect exposure to fossil fuels in the Fund’s portfolio by 2030.

The University is further committed to using its resources to support the global response to climate change and the wider United Nations sustainable development goals.

The Council recognises that simultaneously intense efforts are being made by Colleges, a number of which have investments in the CUEF, to pursue their own carbon reduction strategies.

The ambition of the Investment Office to achieve net zero emissions from the portfolio of the CUEF by 2038, combined with the University’s Carbon Reduction Strategy and its enhanced guidelines on funding and engagement, mark a turning point for the University.

This will entail a four-part strategy - the implementation of which will begin immediately – to help facilitate the transition to a global carbon neutral future.

1. Net Zero investments by 2038

The new Chief Investment Officer (CIO), appointed to lead the Investment Office in January 2020, has explicitly committed to ensuring the CUEF is positioned to prosper in a future net zero economy. The investment team will reduce fossil fuel exposure as swiftly as possible, in a manner consistent with the Fund’s successful investment model. They will also identify opportunities in renewable energy and other investments consistent with a sustainable future energy mix.

The Council strongly supports the following milestones:

  • By December 2020, the Fund will divest from all investments with conventional energy-focused public equity managers;
  • By 2025, the Investment Office aims to have allocated significant capital to renewable energy assets which have a return profile appropriate for the Fund;
  • By 2030, the Investment Office aims to have no meaningful direct or indirect exposure to fossil fuels in the Fund’s portfolio;
  • The longer-term ambition of the Investment Office is to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions from the Fund’s investment portfolio by 2038, in line with the University’s programme to reduce its own emissions to net zero.

As at 31 December 2019, CUEF had fossil fuel exposure amounting to 2.8% of the total portfolio. The expected impact of these targets is that by the end of 2020, this exposure will have been materially reduced, and that by 2030, the exposure will have been reduced to approximately 0.5% or lower.


The Investment Office has recruited a Sustainable Investment Officer to oversee the Fund’s transition and seek out fossil fuel-free investment opportunities while meeting its fiduciary duty to maximise returns for its investors.

Enhanced information will be sought from the CUEF’s fund managers on the carbon impact and wider environmental, social and governance impacts of their portfolios, in order to make accurate assessments of risk.

As part of its commitment to the University’s wider mission to society and education, the Investment Office aims to partner with the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL) to provide current fund managers, who combined have more than US $250 billion under management, with access to high quality resources and research on sustainable finance.

Reporting and Transparency

The new CIO is committed to a high degree of transparency around the composition and performance of the CUEF. The Sustainable Investment Officer will provide a full report annually to the Investment Board, including analysis of the carbon emissions intensity of the Fund. Highlights will be made public in the Fund’s annual report.

The Investment Office will hold an Annual Town Hall meeting open to all members of the University to discuss its progress.

The Council recognises that the global legislative and regulatory framework necessary to measure the process of decarbonisation effectively still needs to be developed. It hopes that the University of Cambridge can lead by example and encourage regulatory authorities around the world to focus on this urgent work.

Cambridge Enterprise and Cambridge Innovation Capital

Investment in emerging clean technology is one of the most significant areas of the economy requiring support. The Council is pleased to report that the University’s technology transfer office, Cambridge Enterprise, and part-owned venture capital fund partner Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC) will expand the application of ESG principles as they invest in early stage companies.

2. Funding Guidelines

The University has demonstrated its own commitment through the establishment of the Cambridge Zero initiative and its adoption of science-based targets for carbon reduction within its own operations. But it is important that the University also reflects this commitment in its approach to donations and other external funding.

The Council has agreed that it will not accept funding from sources where to do so would be incompatible with its best interests, having regard to its commitment to address climate change through a transition to a zero-carbon world.

The power of the University to accept benefactions is delegated to the Vice-Chancellor, who takes advice on the ethical and reputational risks of certain sources of funding from the Committee on Benefactions and External and Legal Affairs (CBELA). CBELA will from now on take into consideration the extent to which the source of funds is aligned with the University’s own objectives concerning climate change.

3. Decarbonising the Estate and other activities at Cambridge

In July 2019 Cambridge became the first university to adopt a 1.5 degrees science based target for emissions reduction, committing to reducing its energy-related carbon emissions to zero by 2048 and, if possible, to achieve a stretch target of 2038. Achieving this goal will require substantial capital investment. 

Pilot projects are being set up looking into replacing gas with the large-scale use of alternative heat technologies. The University is sourcing 20 per cent of its electricity from a wind farm after joining a Power Purchase Agreement with other higher education institutions and will submit a planning application for a solar farm in Cambridge towards the end of Michaelmas Term, subject to Grace approval.

Science based targets are being adopted across the wider University and buildings and sites are being earmarked for early adoption of low/zero carbon reduction strategies. PriceWaterhouseCoopers will provide independent assurance of environmental sustainability data used.

A screening assessment to prioritise progress in the 15 categories of non-energy related emissions will be completed before the end of the academic year 2020/21.

Work is under way to consider using the estate more efficiently in the short term and re-sizing it in the long-term, balancing environmental and financial parameters with academic need. Cambridge’s estate is large and often poorly utilised. Some buildings are old and unsuitable for their purpose. Re-shaping can reduce running costs as well as energy consumption and emissions. A masterplan for the estate in the coming 30 years will embed sustainability outcomes and targets.

4. Global Engagement - Cambridge Zero

The Council believes that the changes outlined above amplify the University’s wider commitment to working for a carbon neutral future embodied in the Cambridge Zero initiative. Cambridge Zero aims to support the transition to a resilient and sustainable carbon zero world by harnessing the full breadth of the University's capabilities, developing solutions that work for our lives, our society and our economy.  The initiative is unprecedented in its scale and ambition, commensurate with the enormity and urgency of the global challenge it seeks to address.

Cambridge Zero will substantially enhance the University’s efforts to lead on the decarbonisation of the global economy in four areas:

Research: Cambridge Zero is focused on developing next-generation power and heating systems, informing policies to support behavioural change, understanding the climate impacts on health, creating a more circular economy, re-thinking measures of prosperity, re-imagining transport, cities and infrastructure as well as exploring carbon capture and storage alongside natural climate solutions and climate repair.  

Education: Learning and training from primary school to tertiary and professional education to shape a workforce and broader society for the challenges and opportunities associated with a zero-carbon transition and to inspire leadership.

Engagement: Cambridge Zero aims to generate the ideas and solutions that will help achieve a zero-carbon society by working collaboratively with stakeholders outside of the University – in government, industry, the third sector, locally, nationally and internationally – enabling University insight to meet real-world needs.

Decarbonisation: Cambridge Zero is working across the Collegiate University to help Estates and the University’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee to develop, co-ordinate and facilitate a rapid transition to a zero-carbon future.


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