Update on Fossil Fuel Divestment in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

This blog aims to summarise where we have got to with fossil fuel divestment in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, UK. It covers higher education, local government and the Divest Parliament campaigns. If I’ve missed stuff out please send a comment so I can update things.

Anglia Ruskin University: They have signed the Fossil Free Declaration committing to never hold investments in fossil fuels. (March 2018).

University of Cambridge:This is the biggest campaign locally driven ever onwards by the amazing commitment of the student group Zero Carbon Cambridge. Under escalating pressure from students and fellows the University has set up 2 different working groups over the last few years. However the University Council has not chosen to support full divestment in direct contradiction to a ‘grace’ [aka motion] from the Regent House, the governing body of over 3000 senior university members. The campaign goes on.

The Colleges of University of Cambridge: There are 31 colleges. Campaigns are developing within these as they hold significant wealth themselves. Peterhouse has withdrawn all direct investment in fossil fuels  (March 2018). Queens has announced a commitment to full divestment (July 2018).  Selwyn has said it will adopt a long term bias towards disinvestment and Downing has committed to divestment including indirect investment ‘where practically possible’ (Nov 2018).  College campaigns seem to have been taking off recently so expect to see more pressure on the colleges in terms to come.

Other Higher Education Bodies: I am afraid I don’t know what is happening in Peterborough or elsewhere in Cambridgeshire. If you have any news please reply to this blog.

Cambridgeshire Pension Fund and Cambridgeshire County Council: This pension fund is the primary target of Fossil Free Cambs campaign. It is a large local government pension fund for employees from a wide range of local organisations including all the local councils in the area. It is run by Cambs County Council via a committee which includes representatives of the district/city councils and Peterborough council as well as UNISON union representatives. They have in the past rejected divestment in favour of ‘engagement’.

District and City Councils: Cambridge City Council have supported fossil fuel divestment (2015) but don’t hold significant investments themselves. South Cambridgeshire have not supported fossil fuel divestment even though under the new Lib Dem leadership they have recently recognised the importance of tackling climate change and getting to zero carbon. East Cambridgeshire Council, Huntingdonshire Council, and Fenland Council haven’t expressed any support for divestment that I am aware of.

Peterborough City Council: Peterborough has a history of lots of environmental activity and has been a UK Environment city in the past.  However in spite of this, local campaigning for divestment by Peterborough in Transition, supported by Fossil Free Cambs,  has so far failed to persuade the council to support divestment.

Local UNISON Branches: UNISON have supported divestment at their national conference (2017) and the UNISON Health branch at Addenbrookes Hospital passed a supporting motion ( 2016). However to my knowledge none of the branches for local council staff have passed motions.

Divest Parliament: This campaign aims to get MPs supporting  divestment. Daniel Zeichner(Labour), MP for Cambridge City and his predecessor Julian Huppert (Lib Dems) have signed up to this. More recently Heidi Allen (Conservative), MP for South Cambridgeshire signed up following some great local campaigning by Sophie, a primary school pupil from her constituency. Peterborough’s MP Fiona Onasanya has had her own problems recently. To my knowledge the other MPs in the area; Lucy Frazer (South East Cambs),  Stephen Barclay (North East Cambs) , Shailesh Vara (North East Cambs), and Jonathon Djanogly (Huntingdon) have not expressed an opinion on divestment. The pressure on Lucy Frazer with her constituency so close to Cambridge will be growing to follow her neighbour and fellow Conservative Heidi Allen’s lead soon.

Summary: There are some clear leaders in the area – Anglia Ruskin University, some of the colleges such as Queens and Downing, Cambridge City Council, Daniel Zeichner MP and Heidi Allen MP.  I’d like to say a personal thank you to the people who have made these decisions. They mean a lot. Unfortunately there are also some notable laggards, the biggest being the Council of the University of Cambridge and the Cambridgeshire Pension Fund Committee.

What Next? I am hopeful we will see commitments in the near future from South Cambs Council, some local UNISON branches, a growing number of colleges and perhaps another MP or two. At some stage Peterborough must also surely follow suit. Once this happens the balance on the Cambs Pension Fund committee will have very nearly tipped in favour of divestment. The pressure on the university will also continue to grow both due to comparison with the ever growing list of universities and colleges supporting divestment and from an ever more frustrated and active student body, coordinated by Zero Carbon Cambridge.

Final Thoughts: The two crucial groups who have yet to change their minds locally on divestment are University (of Cambridge) leaders and Conservative local politicians. I can understand that what may be perceived as a radical choice may not appeal to them. However I think divestment can be understood not only as an ethically important choice but also as a financially prudent conservative choice. It is about eliminating investments which have future risk attached to them from a portfolio. In the era of climate change past returns aren’t going to be a good guide to future risks. When underlying assumptions about renewable energy and batteries, electric transport, the climate itself, and related policies are scrutinised it’s not hard to see that fossil fuel investments could very quickly become a bad bet. Wouldn’t it be less risky just to remove them from an investment portfolio? This of course would have the added advantages that investors would no longer be contributing to life threatening climate disruption, and no longer have the campaigners that care about this bothering them!

I’m looking forward to the day when a blog summarising fossil fuel divestment in Cambridgeshire simply reads ‘ All universities, colleges, local councils and MPs have supported divestment in this area.’ It will come. The question is when.

Contacts – To get more involved:

For Cambridge University and Colleges – Zero Carbon Cambridge: FacebookWeb,  Twitter,  Email: ml787@cam.ac.uk

For Cambridgeshire Pension Fund and local Councils – Fossil Free Cambs: Web, Twitter, Email: fossilfreecambs@pobox.com

Fossil Free Cambs would particularly like to hear from individuals living outside Cambridge City, and those who are pension fund members and/or UNISON members

If in Peterborough – Peterborough in Transition: Web, Facebook, Twitter, or Fossil Free Cambs as above.

To learn more about divestment and the national campaign see Fossil Free UK

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