Cambridge university’s endowment fund targets net zero emissions by 2038

FILE PHOTO: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cambridge
FILE PHOTO: Cyclists are seen in front of Cambridge University, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Cambridge, Britain, May 15, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Couldridge

October 1, 2020

By Matthew Green

LONDON (Reuters) – The University of Cambridge pledged on Thursday to reduce the climate-warming emissions from its investments to net zero within 18 years, a first among academic institutions under pressure from students to do more to combat climate change.

The 800-year-old British university said it would rebalance its 3.5 billion pound ($4.5 billion) endowment fund to ensure that it stopped contributing to global warming by 2038 – ahead of many other climate-concerned investors, who have tended to set a 2050 deadline.

“Cambridge is one of the world’s leading scientific universities and our plans are to align our investment portfolio with the science,” Tilly Franklin, the university’s chief investment officer, told Reuters television.

Cambridge said it would divest any remaining holdings in fossil fuel companies by 2030 to support its goal, part of a broader Cambridge Zero initiative to harness the university’s scientific and convening power for climate action.

Students in Europe and North America have campaigned for years to force universities to divest from fossil fuels. In February, Extinction Rebellion climate protesters dug up the lawn of Cambridge’s Trinity College as part of a week-long series of demonstrations in the town.

Dumping fossil stocks has proven contentious for many pension schemes who favour engaging with heavily-polluting companies. More than 1,000 institutions have nevertheless pledged to divest, according to pressure group Divest/Invest.

By going beyond narrow divestment strategies to target net zero emissions by 2038, Cambridge both joins a vanguard of investors seeking to drive an economy-wide shift to a low-carbon future, and raises the bar in terms of timing.

With the embrace of net zero targets still in its infancy, analysts say fund managers may face hurdles in gaining access to the kind of data and investment options they need to be certain they are delivering meaningful change.

“The challenge is how do we move a global economy to net zero by the middle of the century,” said Emily Shuckburgh, a climate scientist and director of Cambridge Zero.

(Reporting by Matthew Green, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)