Posted on September 22, 2022
Britain’s prestigious Cambridge University is considering cutting ties with fossil fuel companies under pressure from its students and professors. A vote will be held in the fall, initiated by one of the agency’s governing committees, to determine whether the research will continue to receive funding from the oil and gas foundation. The debate echoes the controversy that rocked France’s Ecole Polytechnique for months when TotalEnergies wanted to set up a research and innovation center there.
French students are not the only ones branching out. The British also want to see their campuses freed from the support of fossil fuel companies. This summer, the University of Cambridge began divesting itself from oil and gas companies. It responds to the pressures of student organizations and faculty members who have been campaigning in this direction for several years. Last May, they took action to force university authorities at Cambridge and Oxford not to allow these companies to fund university research.
First of all, the management of the University of Cambridge announced in 2000 that it intends to change the name of the BP Institute, a research institute funded by the British master for 26 million euros. A new name should be found soon. But this fall, the institution will go one step further. It will put research funding and partnerships to a vote with its academic body, which will decide whether to continue working with the fossil sector.
Petition required by faculty
This vote was requested by university professors who are members of “Regent House”, one of the governing committees of the institution. In this case, some 84 professors supported the move, which would target all companies that develop new infrastructure related to fossil fuels, discover new oil or gas fields, or belong to the anti-climate lobby. The move really explains that “While donating to Cambridge University, fossil fuel companies continue to pay industry lobby groups like the American Petroleum Institute about $10 million a year.“.
The financial stakes are not insignificant. According to an article published in a British daily newspaper GuardianThe University of Cambridge is said to have received almost £14 million from companies in the oil and gas sector between 2017 and 2021. It is one of the UK universities most supported by the oil industry, along with Imperial College London.
A world first according to the Fossil Free Research NGO
The approach is particularly original when placed in a French context. Indeed, Polytechnique in Saclay experienced the same controversy when its engineering school admitted that TotalEnergies had set up a low-carbon energy research institute on its campus. As in Cambridge, students protested the project, believing it was a way to increase the influence of the French major on the school. But there is no question of voting at the Polytechnic.
If this proposal is successful, Cambridge will lead the world in comprehensive implementation #FossilFreeResearch the policy finally ends the toxic capture of critical climate research by companies that have channeled all their economic and political power into climate disruption.
—Fossil Free Research (@FosFreeResearch) August 16, 2022
Between student demonstrations, a lawsuit against the CEO of TotalEnergies for charging illegal interest, a proposal by the school administration to move the building… the dispute continued for several months. Only in January 2022, TotalEnergies withdrew from the project. If Cambridge votes in favor of the proposal submitted by the 84 members of the House of Regents, the procedure should therefore be easy. The non-governmental organization Fossil Free Research said on Twitter that if it passes, “Cambridge will be a world leader in implementing a comprehensive fossil-free research policy, ending the toxic capture of critical climate research by corporations that have invested all their economic and political power into climate degradation.“.
Arnaud Dumas, @ADumas5