Trinity College, Cambridge
Image credit: Rafa Esteve – Creative Commons

Trinity College, Cambridge has announced it intends to terminate all direct and indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry. The move comes after a four year divestment campaign from students at the college.

The college’s commitment will see it end all of its direct investments in fossil fuels by the end of 2021. The college will also cease investing indirectly in the industry within five to ten years.

The decision is a major victory for divestment campaigners. Trinity College is the richest college across both Oxford and Cambridge universities. Its current endowment stands at over £1 billion.

According to a 2018 investigation, Trinity College has at least £9.1 million directly invested in companies involved in oil and gas production, extraction and exploration. The same investigation found £8.2 million of those investments were in the 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions. Previously, Trinity has invested in Shell, BP and ExxonMobil, and Trinity fellows have held titles such as the BP Professor of Chemistry and the Shell Professor of Chemical Engineering.

Trinity becomes the fourth Cambridge college to divest from fossil fuels, following Pembroke College, Clare Hall College and Christ’s College.

Earlier this year, a group of over 120 Trinity College alumni signed an open letter calling on the college to divest. Among the signatories were former students spanning from the 1950s through to the present day.

“Historic” decision

Cambridge Zero Carbon – a student society that has spearheaded the divestment campaign at Cambridge University – welcomed the decision from Trinity College. The group described it as “historic”:

Zero Carbon celebrates the enormity of Trinity College’s historic (and long overdue) divestment decision, recognising the central role that fossil fuel companies continue to play in the climate crisis. We hope that this will inspire other Cambridge colleges to follow suit, and praise the committed students, staff, and alumni who have been campaigning tirelessly on this issue over the past four years.

These sentiments were shared by graduates too. Trinity Alumni for Divestment called the move a “powerful political message”:

Trinity Alumni for Divestment welcomes Trinity College’s momentous decision to divest from the fossil fuel industry. By divesting from fossil fuels, the college is sending a powerful political message: that it will no longer support the most destructive industry on the planet.

And Trinity College’s decision also gained support from major figures in the international climate movement. Bill McKibben, the co-founder of welcomed the move. He said:

That the one-time home of Isaac Newton now embraces divestment is a powerful reminder of the great, undeniable physical realities our planet now faces: Trinity’s stand here will echo loudly, precisely because of the history of scientific scholarship it embodies. Those who fought long and hard for this day have done the future a great service.

However, Cambridge Zero Carbon also argued that the college must go further. It said Trinity should break its ties with other “destructive industries”:

The fight for climate justice goes well beyond the divestment movement however, and this must be only the first step in the College’s rejection of destructive industries: while Trinity maintains investments in arms companies, and banks with Barclays – the biggest funder of fossil fuel infrastructure in Europe – there is still work to be done. We continue to demand that Cambridge University and Colleges urgently sever all ties with destructive industries.

Wider movement

The global divestment campaign seeks to utilise the power of large, public institutions to remove the ‘social license’ the fossil fuel industry has to operate, by demonstrating their unwillingness to continue to invest in it.

Over 1,300 institutions across the globe have made public commitments to cut their financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. As a result, an estimated $14.5 trillion of investments have been withdrawn from the sector.

Such commitments have been made after consistent and sustained public pressure from grassroots activists and campaign groups.

Trinity College’s decision comes hot on the heels of other victories for the movement. Earlier in February, it was announced that a total of 85 UK universities had cut their ties to the fossil fuel industry. Pembroke College became the third Cambridge College to make a divestment commitment last week.

When student activist network People & Planet launched the UK wing of the Fossil Free campaign in universities in 2012, no higher education institutions in the UK had committed to divest from the fossil fuel industry. But after the University of Glasgow became the first to divest in 2014, dozens have followed suit.

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Image credit: Rafa Esteve – Creative Commons