Skip to main contentCambridge University Reporter

No 6563

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Vol cl No 5

pp. 39–66

Report of Discussion

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

A Discussion was held in the Senate-House. Deputy Vice-Chancellor Dr Jessica Gardner was presiding, with the Registrary’s deputy, the Junior Proctor, the Deputy Senior Proctor and thirty other persons present.

The following items were discussed:

Topic of Concern to the University: The University response to the climate crisis beyond divestment

(Reporter, 6552, 2018–19, p. 694)

Professor I. M. Leslie (Senior Adviser to the Vice-Chancellor on Environmental Sustainability, Chair of the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee, Director of UIS, and Christ’s College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, reducing the carbon footprint of the University requires a number of actions. Some of these will be painful to some people, but they are necessary if we are to respond to the climate emergency.

There is now a strategy in place to eliminate our scope 1 and scope 2 emissions. Decarbonising electricity (scope 2) by switching to ten-year contracts tied to renewable generation sites will be as likely to save as to cost money. (The University is in fact the largest partner in the electricity purchasing deal reported in yesterday’s Guardian.) Generating our own renewable electricity on site will also contribute to our electricity decarbonisation. Eliminating gas for space and water heating (scope 1) by switching to electricity will require substantial expenditure over the next decade and a half. We are now beginning work to plan and implement this degasification.

That leaves scope 3, that is, the emissions embodied in everything else including everything we buy and commuter travel. Scope 3 includes emissions from air travel, which themselves are of a similar order of magnitude to our emissions from burning gas. We need to take stronger action in reducing air travel emissions, beginning with greater transparency of which parts of the University are travelling most by air, by reasserting the targets for reducing air travel emissions, and perhaps most importantly by encouraging a culture which does not assume travel to conferences is part of the duties of an academic, or is linked to academic promotion. These are not just carbon issues. Air travel is costly in time and money and it can be logistically difficult for some, for example, those with caring responsibilities. We must strive to make virtual conferencing an attractive alternative.

Targets without good measurement and communication are not terribly useful. This applies to air travel in particular, but also to our scope 3 emissions in general.

But air travel is not the elephant in the room. That distinction belongs to a combination of growth and institutional inefficiency.

A look at the University’s online information hub is revealing. Over the past five years the estate has grown by 19%, equivalent to a 3% per annum growth rate. Most of this is highly serviced, energy intensive space. Over the same period, research income has grown 48% in real terms, or 8% per annum. Our non-staff spend (which drives our scope 3 emissions) has increased in real terms by 30% over those past five years, or 5% per annum. Even if we were to achieve a relative improvement of 5% per annum on our scope 3 emissions – which would be an exceptional achievement – we would only be standing still.

The inconvenient truth for the University is that if we are to make progress on our scope 3 emissions, we need to drastically reduce growth until we get on top of this. All growth. (Of course, it could be argued that this is a requirement for financial sustainability in any event.) In considering the amount of effort we expend on growing against the amount of effort we expend on reducing carbon emissions, I would suggest that it a ratio of more than 50:1.

Inefficiency is another problem. Our use of the estate is reckoned to be one of the most inefficient in the sector. Building new space is carbon. Operating new and existing space is carbon. But this is itself a symptom of a further problem.

The academic endeavour relies on independence of thought, and devolution of academic decision-making to Faculties and Departments is essential. But we devolve much more than that. Many of our administrative processes are devolved, not merely in decision-making, but even in the design of those processes. I spoke earlier about growth. Staff numbers over the past five years have grown by 4% per annum, partly driven by research. But within that, professional staff numbers have grown by 8% per annum. Some of this is the additional burden of compliance, and some of it is to drive new initiatives (perhaps without cutting old ones), but much is to service our fragmented processes. Space allocation is but one of these. This fragmentation costs us money – a cost we seem to be willing to bear – but it also costs carbon – which I hope we are not.

Understanding our scope 3 emissions and producing strategies for reducing them is a task the University must make significant progress on this year. The University has already accepted that no new building can enter the capital programme without a full life-cycle analysis for both finance and carbon that is compliant with our carbon reduction targets. That eliminates the main driver for increases in scope 1 and 2 emissions (which, in fact, are going down) and a significant driver of our scope 3 emissions.

The challenge is to remove the other drivers that increase our scope 3 emissions. Air travel is of course one of these, but growth is the main one.

Dr D. R. Thomas (Peterhouse), read by Dr Hutchings:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as a Regent I focused on transport as this is an area where my eleven years of experience of the University showed me there was plenty of room for improvement. Working with staff in Estate Management I discovered that some of our staff are better than we deserve, but they are hamstrung by a lack of political will in the committees and senior staff they report to. The University makes much of having the highest level of cycling of any UK university. This is mostly the result of the policy of banning undergraduates from keeping cars in the city and since all those responsible for that policy are long since dead it is past time for the living to do something which makes a real difference. While the University might have the highest level of cycling in the UK, it is nowhere near international levels of excellence and nowhere near the level required to address the climate crisis.

The University has high ambitions for the quality of infrastructure for walking and cycling but delivered infrastructure falls far short of that. 25% of cycle parking is of insecure design, 15% is in a poor state of repair. The University’s Design and Standard Brief specified such a poor standard of design that any development built to it should be rejected as non-compliant by City Council planners. Eddington was supposed to be built with cycle priority and while the high-level design was approved by planning on that basis, the delivered design provides car priority throughout and deadly junctions at both main roads. The University’s contractors were too scared to try something new, afraid it would be rejected by the conservative City Council officers and not willing to take that argument to their councillors. Hence, while the development is better than the UK average, it is nowhere near an international standard. It even contains barriers designed to discourage and endanger cyclists despite all best practice and modern standards ruling them out.

The main purpose of the defunct Cycling and Walking Working Sub-Group was to produce a strategy for walking and cycling which we did.1 This was then completely ignored in the production of the overall Transport Strategy which set the grand ambition of trying to reduce the rate at which we are getting worse at sustainable transport by continuing to do the things that we are currently doing. However, the group did attract some of the city’s foremost experts in cycling and walking design and so such groups might help Estate Management obtain the necessary expertise. It also surveyed staff for what they thought the University should do and worked with the County Council so that some of those things will be done.

The University currently pays out £3 million a year to encourage staff to drive to work,2 much more than it spends on any other transport mode. The evidence is that charging for parking by the hour3 would be one of the most effective ways of encouraging sustainable transport.4 Some staff may have no other way of getting to work, but others do have a choice and the current parking subsidy is about the cost of an annual bus pass or an electrically-assisted pedal cycle. If staff had the cash rather than the free parking, they might take the bus or buy an electrically-assisted pedal cycle instead of driving. The Council could consider giving everyone a pay raise equivalent to a new parking charge.

Regents, the University has grand ambitions to address the climate crisis, but it will fail unless you regularly and determinedly question the Council’s progress. They want to do the right thing but are complacent as everyone presents a rosy picture to management. Members of Council, leadership is to find out what is the right thing to do and then to do that while taking people with you. You will need to consult widely and carefully to determine the right courses of action and then to act with boldness. You will also need to use the full force of the University’s reputation to move local and national governments.

Calling this Discussion was one of my last acts as a Regent and I hope that others will have contributed ideas far better than any that I could have had. I write from high ground in the north at the University of Strathclyde but part of my heart will forever be in Cambridge. It is time for the University to show true excellence in tackling the climate crisis, which is not merely to be better than other universities – that is too easy – but to do enough.


Professor R. J. Anderson (Department of Computer Science and Technology and Churchill College), read by Dr Hutchings:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I have served three terms on the Council from 2003–10 and 2015–18, and sat on most of the major committees including, in my last term, the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee. I make these remarks in a personal capacity.

I can recall many incidents where proposals to cut waste got nowhere. Back when Alison Richard was Vice-Chancellor I proposed that the mileage we pay for private car use should be cut from 45p, a notional average cost, to the marginal cost of, say, 25p. In fact, 45p is such a generous allowance that it led to our own ‘value for money’ guidelines suggesting that it might be cheaper to rent a car than to use your own. Even 25p is generous for out-of-pocket costs; I personally reckon 16p for fuel and about tuppence for tyre wear. But the Old Schools were having none of it. Perhaps someone should make a Freedom of Information request to find out who’s getting a tax-free boost to their salary by driving a lot of miles on our behalf.

More recently, when I was on the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee, I was asked to chair a committee on cycling and walking, one of four groups that was to feed into our Transport Strategy. We were told that there would be a budget for cycling and walking improvements; if memory serves it was to be £100,000. We set out to crowdsource a list of things that needed doing, from removing dangerous chicanes on cycle paths to providing bike sheds, showers and drying rooms at departments that needed them. We even turned up at consultations run by the town council on such matters as the Histon Road cycle lane.

So what did we achieve? Nothing much. The Old Schools spent a lot of the money on a flashy consultants’ report, and very few of the works were done – not even those that were a health and safety issue. For example, the dangerous chicanes on the cycle path from Clerk Maxwell Road were replaced, after the path was relaid, with new chicanes. I came to the conclusion that the committee I’d been asked to lead had not really been a good-faith attempt to make progress, but rather a strategy to keep us busy while the ship steamed on. As a result, I resigned from the Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, getting Cambridge pointed in the right direction is going to mean lots of small changes, and our governance structures really aren’t up to doing this unless the responsible senior managers really want to. Internal incentives are usually against change of any kind. We need a way to fix this. And it’s time to do something big and bold.

I propose that Cambridge University undertake to go net carbon neutral not by 2050 but now. We should start to offset our CO2 emissions immediately, as responsible firms and individuals are already doing. At present our direct emissions are about 100,000 tons, so if it’s going to cost us US $20 a ton to plant trees in Australia, that’s $2m a year, which we can well afford. Of course, the more firms offset their carbon consumption, the more the price will rise, and from talking to colleagues in energy policy I expect that within a few years the price will be more like $60. $6m a year is also a price we can afford; I can recall more than one occasion from my time on Council when we had to claw back from a deficit of several times that. $60 is more in line with economists’ thinking of a reasonable carbon price, so we should probably plan on that basis.

Once we have a carbon price, we should then tax internal transactions and put the proceeds in a green fund to pay for energy efficiency measures, bus subsidies, cycling infrastructure and so on. Similarly, your departmental electricity bill and gas bill should attract surcharges, and as that’s where most of the 100,000 tons come from, that’s what will pay the $2m or $6m or whatever the offset costs us. In fact I would suggest starting the tax at $100 a ton so that at equilibrium we can not only pay for offsetting but also have a surplus of several million a year for initiatives such as the Vice-Chancellor’s ‘Zero Carbon’ – and for better cycling facilities too.

What that would mean is that if you fly to Chicago to a conference, and that costs two tons of carbon, then when you put in your expenses claim there would be an additional tax of $200 deducted from the grant that reimburses you, and this tax would go into the green fund.

By taxing emitters and making some of the money available for improvements, we can create a mechanism that will incentivise managers in the Old Schools to do the right thing, rather than just fobbing off academic members of the relevant committees as, in the words of our dear Prime Minister, a bunch of ‘uncooperative crusties’.

Dr A. J. Hutchings (Department of Computer Science and Technology):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, as an academic I experience perverse incentives when it comes to making choices and behaving in ways which would reduce my environmental impact. I am not incentivised to cut carbon emissions. Instead, I am incentivised to do more research, which in computer science can often involve the use of super computers, clusters, and high capacity servers. I am incentivised to publicise my work in high impact conferences, attend important meetings, and deliver prestigious keynotes. This often involves travelling the globe. While I am incentivised to work in ways which can be damaging to the environment, I have made a conscious effort to cut back on my travel over the past twelve months, and planned future travel. I recognise that this comes at a potential cost to my international standing and recognition in the field. Another challenge is how to incentivise conference venues to incorporate facilities that would allow for excellence in remote conference participation?

More locally, high living costs and poor public transport options means that many University staff cannot live close to where they work, and cannot commute sustainably. For them, the most realistic way to commute is by car. The changes to the rental model for North West Cambridge, away from a percentage of income and towards a flat rate, means that it is now unaffordable for many employees at the lower end of the salary scales, pushing them to alternative accommodation further away from Cambridge. While the Universal bus timetable has increased in frequency and hours of service, there is still room for improvement and other public transport options remain limited.

We need to take drastic action to respond to the climate crisis. To do this, we need to get everybody on board. It is not enough to set targets if there are not realistic ways to meet these targets. If we want to change human behaviour, we need to take into consideration why people behave the way they do. Engineering provides us with more efficient ways of carrying out our business, economics allows us to consider environmental costs, and the social sciences provides insight into how behavioural change can be facilitated at individual and group levels. We have immense expertise here at this University, perhaps in ways that are not immediately apparent. But is it being utilised to the fullest extent?

In 2015, the University launched its ‘Dear World… Yours Cambridge’ campaign, highlighting important discoveries of the past. But it feels that these days our contributions amount to writing a ‘sorry to hear you are unwell, get well soon’ card to the planet. If we are a truly global university, we need to be leading the emergency response. Everyone should be pitching in together, not acting as bystanders waiting for someone else to take action.

One last point. I was a member of the University Council until my resignation on 29 October 2018. While on Council, I signed a note of dissent relating to the decision not to fully divest from fossil fuel companies.1 I see since then a number of other universities have made what I consider to be the right decision and divested, including the University of California just three weeks ago. Jesus, Selwyn and Downing Colleges are ceasing direct investment in the fossil fuel industry, while Clare Hall and Queens’ College are fully divesting. I applaud these decisions and urge the Council to re-consider its stance on divestment.

Dr M. R. Danish (Department of Computer Science and Technology):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am going to dedicate these remarks to the topic of sustainable transport and the University’s role in promoting and enabling it for everyone who works, studies, lives or visits here. Sustainable transport is defined as modes of transport that emit relatively little or no air pollution, have near-zero carbon impact, and provide a practical means of travel that could be utilised indefinitely on a large-scale without degrading the environment or public health. Generally, this means walking, cycling and some forms of public transport. For the purposes of this Discussion I will focus on walking and cycling.

Transport in the United Kingdom accounts for a little over a quarter of all carbon emissions. In most places the majority of local air pollution, leading to disease and even death, appears to consist largely of particulates and gases emitted from or caused by motor vehicles. We have long accepted that places dominated by motor traffic are unpleasant and that designing for cars tends to encourage more people to use them, furthering the downward spiral. Electric cars still cause traffic congestion, road danger and particulate pollution. They also require vast amounts of electricity that may be generated by carbon-heavy methods and rely on a rapidly depleting supply of rare-earth minerals to build the batteries that store it.

This is a worldwide crisis and I do not expect the University to be able to tackle it all. However, we should be able to put our own affairs in order and ensure that policies and development on the land we control, or among the institutions we collaborate with, are promoting and enabling sustainable transport. The direction to go is not hard to see. Cambridge already shows the model to follow: very high numbers of short- and medium-distance journeys made by walking and cycling, in large part thanks to a long-standing University policy that restricts undergraduates from keeping cars.

Cambridge is such a world-famous example already that one might ask what more needs to be done? In fact, while Cambridge enjoys a strong modal share of walking and cycling by British standards, it is only middling by continental standards. Furthermore, most walking and cycling in Cambridge happens despite the infrastructure, which is crumbling, poor or outright antagonistic in nature. We should not sit on our laurels and say we’ve done the best in Britain and therefore no more is needed. Instead we should be leaders and strive to reach and exceed the levels of walking and cycling achieved by our counterparts in Dutch cities like Delft and Groningen.

This is especially important as Cambridge continues to grow and the University community gets larger. University staff, in particular, are pushed outward by the high cost of living and into the countryside where cycling becomes much more difficult due to poor infrastructure and large amounts of motor traffic making it unsafe and unpleasant. One answer is public transport, which is important. However, let us not forget that the distances involved are well within cycling range. Take Cambourne, for instance. The centre of Cambourne is 6.5 miles from the West Cambridge site. In the Dutch countryside, that’s a doddle: schoolchildren there will regularly cycle twice that distance, twice a day, on a comprehensive network of peaceful routes. Here, it’s considered a dangerous feat that involves cycling on roads with 60mph motor traffic inches away. The difference is infrastructure provision.

The University is not responsible for the public highways and paths. However, it does have a substantial opportunity to influence the governmental bodies that are charged with building infrastructure, such as the Greater Cambridge Partnership. Indeed, the University has a non-voting member who sits on the Executive Board of that authority and can participate in their discussions as an equal.

If we look at how these matters have played out in the past, it is not a pretty picture, which is why I am speaking today. Consider the extremely large and car-centric designs of the main junctions associated with the Eddington site, on Madingley and Huntingdon Roads. These junctions were designed approximately eight years ago, following a model straight out of the 1980s: creating extremely high capacity for cars, while relegating people cycling to inconvenient and staggered pathways or else to unprotected painted cycle lanes. Commentary from that time suggest that these designs were put together by the relatively regressive County Council Highway Authority and the University went along with it without much fuss. This should have been a moment for the University to push back against the County Council and say: ‘no, we are going to prioritise sustainable transport instead’. A number of members of University staff attempted to do so, led by the late Sir David MacKay, a Cambridge Professor who wrote a prominent book on sustainable transport. However, they received no help from the University administration. Sadly, not much has changed in the past three years since he died, despite the continuing efforts of a group of parents of children who attend the Eddington Primary School to get some of the more dangerous problems fixed.

A University that prioritised sustainable transport wouldn’t force parents to beg for a safe way for their kids to cycle to the University’s own school.

On the Eddington site itself, the ‘cycle infrastructure’ is plagued with numerous flaws and construction errors, some intentional and some not. This site, which was meant to be the epitome of sustainable transport in Cambridge, has instead become a laughing stock and a warning to others.

The main cycleway leading out of the site south along Eddington Avenue began buckling and cracking within a year of opening. It was then shut for about six months for repairs. The same buckling and cracking is now reappearing again, a clear sign of inadequate original construction.

Minor junctions within the site vary wildly in treatment from one to the other. Some have painted give-way markings on the cycleway, giving priority to motorists, in violation of the approved drawings of the planning application. For example, in one egregious instance, a small car park with a few car-parking spaces is given priority over the adjacent cycleway.

The tactile paving, which is meant to assist people with visual impairment, has been laid out haphazardly and in combinations that are meaningless to the people it was intended to help.

There is no cycle route between the Madingley Road junction and the Sainsbury’s because the provided cycleway along Eddington Avenue turns left onto Turing Way. There is no provision for people cycling to continue along Eddington Avenue. The only way to make this journey is either to (a) take the road, or (b) cycle on some portion of the footway, which many people do. The same design flaw arises at the other built-up corners of the site and will be aggravated when subsequent phases of Eddington open.

The off-road Ridgeway walking and cycling route was meant to be a premier link between Girton Corner, Eddington and Storey’s Way. Instead it has accumulated a series of obstructions that defy explanation. Several varieties of wacky wooden gates/chicanes were installed onto the pathway, with occasional changes over the past two years, mostly in violation of the planning agreements. These wacky gates increase conflict between pedestrians and cyclists and are much more difficult to navigate for people with disabilities, or for those who are pulling trailers with children. Often the trailers suffer minor collisions with the gates. At one point, the University surprised us with a new gate arrangement that completely blocked everyone from being able to use the cycleway at all, and it had to be fixed a few days later so that at least some people could get through. Later, in some strange turn of events, a ping pong table was installed on the main cycle route near the Storey’s Field Centre – it’s still there.

Many of the paths were surfaced with tar spray and chip, a method that involves laying loose gravel with a binder. The remaining loose gravel is supposed to be swept away or vacuumed up. However, two years have gone by and many of the paths still retain this loose gravel, which is a slip hazard for people cycling. The loose gravel is spilling onto the public highway in some places, spreading the hazard beyond the site.

Most of these issues were raised on a site walk that I conducted with members of the project team over two years ago, after the initial public opening of the site. They have yet to be properly addressed. In fact, Estate Management has gone out of its way to make cycling more difficult with chicanes and gates, which should simply have been removed. When asked, they claim the chicanes and gates are for ‘safety’, but there is no evidence to support that assertion. All around Cambridge, not to mention the rest of the world, there are numerous busy cycle routes without these strange chicanes and gates. The claimed ‘safety’ argument is a complete red herring that fails upon any scrutiny.

I could continue with comments along these lines about the West Cambridge site and other places, however I must hold back due to time.

The University clearly does not take sustainable transport seriously on its own estate, over which it has full control, from acquisition, to design and planning, through construction and operation. They know people will cycle, and will put up with whatever is provided, due to lack of other choice. However, this approach doesn’t help people who are new to cycling in Cambridge, and it doesn’t enable people who are concerned about dangerous drivers, or who have specially adapted cycles for disability that would grant them mobility but won’t fit on poorly-designed pathways or through twisty chicanes. It doesn’t help grow sustainable transport and it most certainly does not set the example that we should be setting to the rest of the world, in order to address the climate crisis more widely.

The steps the University can take to remedy this situation include:

On new and existing University sites, creating walking and cycling routes that are fully-accessible, high-quality, ample, convenient, with separate provision for walking from cycling, with priority for both over motor traffic, and using design techniques that respect users and minimise conflicts. The explicit goal should be creating facilities and routes that are usable by people of all abilities, and feel safe, intuitive and easy-to-use for people of all experience levels.

Following cycle parking standards that are better than required by the city, with space for cargo cycles, trailers and specially adapted cycles for disability.

Being a strong, positive voice for walking and cycling as modes of everyday transport in every public forum or consultation that is relevant, especially with regard to the schemes proposed by the Greater Cambridge Partnership, the Combined Authority of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, the Cambridgeshire County Council and the Cambridge City Council.

As an example of that strong, positive voice, the University should weigh in on the imminent installation of a barrier on King’s Parade, just down the street from this Discussion. The City Council is proposing to block off the street, one of the most important streets in Cambridge for students cycling to and from classes, and would leave only a 1.2m-wide opening for everyone to contend over. Realistically, only a single person cycling can fit through that opening at a time, and people with a trailer or cargo cycle had better line themselves up very carefully. While the principle of protecting people on the street from dangerous drivers is laudable, the implementation is dire, and will clearly cause a great deal of harm, disproportionately to University students.

The same goes for the proposal to route the Cambourne to Cambridge busway via Adams Road. We have data to show that about 500 people per hour cycle through the junction between the Coton Path and Adams Road during peak times, and many others are walking as well. Add a new busway with buses travelling at 50mph into this junction, and the problem becomes apparent. Public transport is important; so is safety. The proposed twenty diesel buses per hour will further add to the difficulties on Grange Road, and presumably Silver Street as well.

The climate crisis is a global problem but our answer to it necessarily involves small steps and little details. It’s not enough to make sweeping declarations and then gloss over the implementation. Empty words are just hot air, not helpful. The hard work of creating a truly sustainable transport system means making decisions at every level to prioritise walking and cycling, from planning to construction, throughout maintenance and daily operation.

Ms J. O’Brien (CUSU Disabled Students’ Officer and Trinity Hall):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am grateful to be taking part in this Discussion, which has been achieved by years of student activism encouraging the University to review its own contributions to the climate crisis, and take many steps to achieve ecological change including divestment from fossil fuels. There are many compelling arguments to be made in favour of divestment and other changes, but today I plan to focus on just one – the University’s responsibility to its disabled students, staff and disabled people all over the globe.

Much of the narrative surrounding the climate crisis has been unfairly individualised and limited to lifestyle politics. We are told that to save our planet we must take personal responsibility for what we eat, what we buy, what we wear, where we shop, what cars we drive, whether we recycle, and what lightbulbs we use. These are commendable actions, and I encourage those individuals who are able to take these steps to do so. However, it becomes dangerous when lifestyle politics are substituted for vital and necessary structural changes.

Many disabled people are simply unable to make the changes to their lifestyle that this narrative encourages. Take, for example, those individuals, including many at this University, who are type 1 diabetic. Their syringes, test strips, blood glucose meters, bottles for sugar tablets, and insulin pump infusion set equipment all amount to a significant volume of plastic waste generated over the course of a life time. Diabetics cannot simply opt out or change their habits, this is their reality.

There have been many negative consequences which have arisen from this narrative. Take, for example, the difficulty many disabled people now face in trying to obtain something as simple as a plastic straw in a restaurant which they need to be able to drink. Imagine having suffered a traumatic brain injury that manifests itself in a myriad of symptoms including palsy and spasms, attempting to live a happy life, only to have a server demand you explain your unseen disability before you’re able to drink your water. That would ruin any meal. Others who have limited mobility or cannot stand for long periods of time might need to use paper plates or plastic cutlery instead of having to pay someone else to do the dishes for them. Non-disabled individuals cannot be the judge of who needs what.

We often think of environmentalism as relying on using less, but the problem of waste is twofold – both the quantity and the type of materials we use are problematic. A landfill exclusively filled with food waste is, after all, just a compost heap. That is not to say that we should encourage consumerist behaviour, far from it. Instead, it must be the role of reputable institutions and large investors like this University to listen to marginalised communities and demand that the companies which make glass, paper, bamboo, or metal straws – which are currently unsuitable for many disabled people – come up with a better solution. If something doesn’t work for all of us, none should be complicit.

We are an institution who pride ourselves on our progressiveness and innovation – yet we fail to lead in this sector. Many Colleges, including the College of our Vice-Chancellor, Clare Hall, have begun to realise this, and have started the process of divesting. Yet the central University lags behind.

In January, The Guardian revealed the University had been offered two multimillion-pound donations from global fossil fuel corporations at the same time it was considering calls to divest its endowment fund. How can we as an institution feel comfortable pushing the responsibility on to disabled people and individuals as if they are responsible for this climate catastrophe, when we know that research shows that the United Kingdom has produced the largest per capita historical carbon emissions, and that this University has itself played a large part in that historical environmental degradation?

It is time to cut ties with a fossil fuel industry that puts profits over people. It is time to move our investments into sustainable technology which accounts for the needs of people and planet, including disabled people. It is time to prove that Cambridge is an institution which fights for reform and progress and science, not for the interests of companies who have a stake in the destruction of our planet.

Mr O. Banks (Queens’ College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, it is well understood that to meaningfully tackle the climate crisis we need to keep oil in the ground. All the carbon held in already-claimed reserves amounts to five times the amount that can be released into the atmosphere whilst limiting global warming to 2°C. Of course, this in itself is insufficient.

With this knowledge, the BP Institute at the University has a research focus on maximising oil flow in pipes. At the same time, the Schlumberger Research Centre sets out to improve drilling, pumping and testing services in the oilfield. With the primary goal of finding and characterising new oil reserves across the globe, the Engineering Department’s CASP Research group makes sure these services can be used in ever-riskier reserves. These are just a few examples of how the University has drawn together an impressive list of research groups to help fossil fuel companies at every stage, from finding oil reserves through to fine-tuning the extractive technologies.

Regrettably, it goes deeper still. Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialising arm of the University has a history of targeting academic research for use by fossil fuel companies. It facilitated the spin-out of research about gravitational sensors in the University into a company that makes sensors that can detect oil in reservoirs. It facilitated another spin-out that created technology for separating petrochemicals.

The University also helps fossil fuel companies identify the most useful technologies. This happens through consultancy at the Institute for Manufacturing. The Institute works with major fossil fuel companies like BP, creating technology development pathways, including the Shell-led Kazakhstan oil and gas pathway.

Together, we see the formation of an extractive research machine. A huge effort by the University to put together the parts needed to help fossil fuel companies at every stage of their extractive projects. Therefore, if the University is going to substantively combat the climate crisis, it needs to take this machine apart. It needs to shrink its extractive research at the very time it expands its research into renewables. It needs to divert its consultancy and commercialising bodies away from projects concerned with extracting more oil and into projects that look at getting more funding for renewables. This means safeguarding researchers through offering non-extractive alternatives.

In conclusion, the University of Cambridge cannot claim to be responding to the climate crisis while it continues to oil an extractive research machine. I’ll take the University’s declarations of social responsibility seriously the day this machine is dismantled and extractive research is drawn to a halt.

Mr J. Simms (CUSU Ethical Affairs Officer and Christ’s College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am speaking today to raise sincere alarm about the University’s failure to take adequate action on the climate crisis and to call for a radical step change in how these issues are addressed. I will be focusing in particular on the carbon reduction targets to which the University has committed. First, though, I will offer some context within which this discussion must be framed.

Climate breakdown is not only an urgent existential threat to humanity but a lived reality for billions of people across the world today. It is not merely a future threat, but something that has been depriving marginalised communities of their livelihoods, homes, and lives for decades. Moreover, it is not a process that is felt equally across the world. It is communities in the poorest countries in the Global South, countries that have made the smallest historic contributions to global emissions, that disproportionately feel the devastating effects. And it is overwhelmingly people of colour who are worst affected. Indeed, nine of the ten most vulnerable countries to climate breakdown are in sub-Saharan Africa. This – despite the fact that the average person living in sub-Saharan Africa produced around 0.8 metric tons of CO2 in 2014 compared to around 6.4 metric tons for the average European, and around 16.5 metric tons for the average American – according to the World Bank.

We must therefore view climate breakdown as an issue of justice. Cambridge University is the richest university in Europe. It is located in the United Kingdom, the country which has historically contributed to global warming more than any other country per capita and which has amassed much of its wealth through colonialism, empire, and exploitative resource extraction of countries in the Global South – the same nations now worst affected by climate breakdown. Researchers recently found that in order to stay within a 66% chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, taking global wealth inequity into consideration, the UK would be allocated a carbon budget of 2.5 gigatonnes (GT) of CO2 out of a total of 420 GT in the IPCC’s most recent budget. The study shows that if the UK adopts a 2050 net zero target with a consistent linear decrease in emissions from now until 2050, it will have fully exhausted the 2.5 GT carbon budget by 2030, with an additional carbon ‘overdraft’ of 3.5 GT by 2050 – more than double the UK’s proportional budget. The key point is that carbon reduction targets need to be rooted in the crucial principle that we cannot apply a global net-zero target of 2050 to each country equally; individual countries, and institutions such as Cambridge University within those countries, bear a particular responsibility given economic inequality and historic responsibility for emissions.

I raise all this because it provides an important frame for this discussion today, particularly in relation to the carbon reduction targets the University has set. Recently, the University announced that they had signed up to Science Based Targets. The targets commit the University to reducing its energy emissions to absolute zero by 2048, with the aspiration of being a decade ahead of their targets at all times.

Now before I get on to whether those dates are adequate, there are a number of gaping inadequacies in both the range and scope of the targets. Firstly, regarding range: they do not currently apply to the Cambridge Assessment, Cambridge University Press, or North West Cambridge sites. Whilst the University has endorsed the intention of expanding the range of the Science Based Targets to include these, this may not be completed until 2022, and it is unclear whether the University intends to include the sites in the 2038 zero carbon aspiration, or just in the Science Based Targets. Moreover, and although the Colleges are autonomous and can set their own targets independently, it is important to note that they do not include any of the Colleges. Secondly, regarding scope: carbon emissions are categorised as different ‘scopes’ in the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions that occur from sources owned or controlled by the organisation; scope 2 emissions are emissions from the generation of purchased electricity consumed; and scope 3 emissions are all other indirect emissions which are a consequence of the activities of the organisation, but occur from sources not owned or controlled by the organisation. Examples of scope 3 emissions are water, waste, business travel, commuting, and procurement. The University’s carbon reduction targets do not take into account scope 3 emissions. Indeed, the University is failing to even measure them. Out of the fifteen distinct reporting categories for scope 3 emissions outlined by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the University only measures five, three of which with ‘low’ or ‘very low’ confidence about the accuracy. These five alone account for 31% of the University’s combined Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions. Recent internal estimates, however, indicated that the University’s total scope 3 emissions would likely account for over 80% of their total emissions. For the University to claim to have set carbon reduction targets, when an estimated 80% of their total emissions are not even measured, let alone included in the targets, is misleading. The University has pledged to improve the reporting of emissions. Yet I have been raising this issue for over a year on the University’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy Committee which oversees these matters and progress has been very slow. It should be of the utmost priority for the University to measure, and then incorporate into its carbon reduction targets, scope 3 emissions.

Yet even putting these issues of range and scope aside, there is a more fundamental issue at play here. The target of zero carbon emissions by 2048, and aspiration of achieving it by 2038, are presented to be in line with what the science demands. Yet they are fundamentally inadequate. They are based on a pathway with a 50% chance of limiting peak emissions to 1.5 degrees. Yet, as established by the IPCC report last year, we know 1.5 degrees is absolutely the upper limit to avoid runaway catastrophic global warming. A 50% probability doesn’t, then, inspire much confidence. Furthermore, whilst the University has committed to a pathway that accounts for regional variances in the carbon reduction necessary across the world, it doesn’t account for issues of inequity and historic responsibility that are so crucial as I have argued earlier. According to the Science Based Targets’ own methodology:

The SDA method intrinsically accounts for regional differences regarding level of activity and carbon intensity, but not explicitly in relation to regional resources or historical responsibility and capability… The SDA method does not take into account considerations of equity or fairness across different countries.

The target the University has commited to therefore underestimates the level of ambition to which it would be equitable and just for Cambridge to commit.

The University must go further and adopt a target of zero carbon emissions by 2030 at the very latest if it is to take the climate crisis, its historic responsibility, and the demands of justice seriously. This will require serious financial investment, particularly with regards to eliminating gas from the estate. It will require the University to raise bonds, rather than merely investing where there is a business case to cut costs. Yet the University will have to pay, if it is to reach zero emissions, at some point. It would be a historic injustice to delay. To avoid furthering its complicity in climate breakdown, the University must cut all ties with the fossil fuel industry, including by divesting from fossil fuels, and it must commit to a target of zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Ms C. Newbold (St Catharine’s College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the University of Cambridge may be making small steps towards reducing its carbon emissions, but at this point in the ongoing climate crisis targets, actions and changes to accountability structures must be nothing but radical. The University is currently utterly failing to take the fundamental action that is necessary to avoid exacerbating the ongoing warming of the global climate. It isn’t enough to say that Cambridge is falling short of the goals, but that these goals themselves aren’t anywhere close enough to the type of action that can and must be taken.

Look at its goals for carbon reduction: Science Based Targets to keep global emissions 1.5 degrees above preindustrial temperatures by achieving zero carbon by 2048 for its energy, but with only a 50% probability of achieving this. It isn’t the poor steps taken thus far to fulfil this target that are the University’s main failings but the unambitious nature of this target itself. The University wants to reach absolute zero in its energy emissions by 2048. That is around 30 years from now, falling far short of the twelve years which the IPCC have given for radical action to be taken. An absolute zero in energy emissions is pointless if the University continues to leave out its scope 3 carbon emissions from these figures. These goals also fail to take into account the fact that positive climatic feedback mechanisms will continue the warming process far into the future, making it highly unlikely that global temperatures will remain only 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels.

The geoengineering project that forms part of the University’s Cambridge Zero initiative highlights that even when action is being taken it is being taken without regard for the historic responsibilities and with the continued participation of the University in the very power structures that prevent climate justice. The BP Institute, a key partner in this initiative, has a vested interest in a model of fossil fuel-driven capitalism that has been a root cause of the current crisis. By working with the powers of big oil, the University is continuously complicit in a model of economic development that favours profit over social and ecological justice.

On the website for the Cambridge Zero initiative the University refers to redefining prosperity in terms of ‘social and natural capital’. This makes the action on climate change conditional on the supposed capital utility of human lives and natural resources. Justice demands that the University cuts ties with the fossil industry in any and all ways, not just in divestment, but in its research. Geoengineering to merely ‘adapt’ is not enough. It should be pursued fully in the interests of the women, ethnic minorities, indigenous groups and future generations who have historically and will continue to bear the burdens of these changes.

The Vice-Chancellor described this geoengineering project as:

part of our responsibility as a globally influential academic institution ... to take a leading role in helping our society move towards a sustainable future.

If the University is so keen to adopt a ‘leading role’ in moves toward sustainability then it needs to accept and address its role as a frontrunner in the drive toward climatic breakdown. Faith in geoengineering as the solution to the climate crisis is a lazy materialism that fails to acknowledge the central role that Cambridge has played not just as an outpost of sustainable research but as an institution that has participated – and continues to participate – in the colonial power structures at the root of the present crisis. Wind turbines, efficient heating systems, and a vague commitment to look at ways of reducing the emissions in its supply chains are too weak and could take years to develop under this initiative and do nothing to undo the damage that has already been done. Indigenous groups in the northern polar regions have been facing environmental destruction for generations through colonial practices in which Cambridge and Britain played a pivotal role. Even to keep warming 1.5 degrees above preindustrial levels would mean temperature increases of over 10 degrees in areas of Alaska and Greenland. What we are talking about isn’t a future of environmental burdens, but a very present and real threat that this University continues to profit from.

It is not an issue to which the Vice-Chancellor’s society can find a solution, but an issue that has grown out of the very social structures that the University upholds. Who will control these geoengineering technologies? How are these individuals in oil companies to be held accountable in the deployment of this technology? Whose voices are being heard in the development process? Technology alone cannot solve an issue that has capitalism and environmental racism at its core. Those people who have been the victims of historic plundering by colonial forces are those most in need of these adaptive technologies and history has proven time and time again that technological process can be used as a tool to prevent justice. The University of Cambridge can and must redirect the profits it has made at the expense of the Global South to reducing their continued impact on the environment and to providing these countries with the necessary support for the ongoing impacts of climate breakdown. Any failure to do so would be to continue the University’s colonial history.

Mr G. L. Breckenridge (Fitzwilliam College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, firstly, I would like to thank the members of Regent House that requested this Senate-House Discussion on such an urgent and important matter for the University going forward. I thank them, and pay tribute to their accurate, I believe, recognition that the issue of fossil fuel divestment is only one of a broader suite of urgent and necessary responses the University could –and in my view should – make in recognition of the self-made climate crisis we are currently living through.

Indeed, as I myself recognised in my Discussion remarks in February 2019, on the topic of the future of the investment office, failure to divest only represented ‘one aspect of Cambridge’s comprehensive and wide-reaching failure in achieving’ their environmental mission statement – the broader scope of which is to ‘[have] concern for sustainability and the[ir] relationship with the environment’.1 In these remarks I will thus now expand on these previous assertions and present the evidence that this University is falling disappointingly short – disappointingly short – in achieving even its own, modest targets for improvement in this arena.

I firmly believe this speech needs nothing more, though, than for me to present the published facts on the University’s own reporting on its environmental performance, which have gone incredibly unpublicised by the University itself. I must say, they lend themselves inflexibly to the obvious conclusion that shall then, regrettably, follow.

Firstly, unless dramatic action is taken, without delay, the University is certain to miss its core carbon reduction target set in 2010. Although this target was set at a 34% reduction by 2020–21, against the baseline year of 2005–06, current University reporting presents current progress as only a 9.26% reduction as of 2018.2

Secondly, in its moderated pursuit of broader environmental sustainability, beyond carbon emissions, the University is missing its own goals. Such a claim needs no more explanation than that eight of the thirteen sustainability targets for 2018 have been missed, according to the University’s third annual Environmental Sustainability Report.3

And finally, the rest of the shortfalls. No gas energy phase-out date, no incorporation of realistic Scope 3 emissions in future targets, and not even a coordinated strategy to include the huge environmental impacts of Colleges.4 Hope is not in sight, in both the accounts of the University and in the perspectives of students such as myself, given the University’s inherently unsustainable growth model, and its continued relentless ignorance to prioritising the environment, as we’ve heard.

It’s astonishing, for an educational institution that prides its ethos on a supposed history of social leadership and progress, that Cambridge has managed to miss these targets it has set itself, by its own admission.2 To miss such targets, when the technological and sociocultural solutions are now so readily available, is shameful, and will not go unnoticed by future generations. They will rightfully, I imagine, view Cambridge with a strong and unforgivable disfavour, in the very near future, if this University doesn’t get very serious on climate change action, very soon.

The only reasonable, reasoned conclusion one can draw is that Cambridge is failing in its duty to achieve its very own, self-declared mission statement as it explicitly regards environmental responsibility. How many more times does this have to be said, before Cambridge puts together, and actually enacts, a fit-for-purpose response to the climate crisis?

Hopefully, before it’s too late.5

Mr E. P. Hawkins (King’s College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the fossil fuel industry’s existence is incompatible with action on climate change. If we are to stay below 1.5°C, less than one fifth (4–20%) of existing global fossil fuel reserves can be used. Despite this, fossil fuel companies continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on discovering more reserves, building more fossil fuel infrastructure, and perpetuating society’s needless over-reliance on fossil fuels which has already put us on track for a climate crisis. According to the Harvard Kennedy School, in 2010 three-year investments in oil and gas exploration and production totalled more than US $1.5 trillion.1 These trends have continued up to 2019.2 Although fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Shell and BP claim to be committed to keeping global temperatures from rising above 2.0°C, their behaviours and investments contradict their expressed goals. It is estimated that the five largest publicly-traded oil and gas majors (ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, BP and Total) have invested over US $1bn of shareholder funds in the three years following the Paris Agreement on misleading climate-related branding and lobbying.3 This is part of a much longer history of fossil fuel companies greenwashing, whereby fossil fuel companies make unsubstantiated and misleading claims about their practices. In the 1980s, fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil and Shell carried out internal assessments and forecast the planetary consequences of their emissions whilst continuing to ‘emphasise the uncertainty in scientific conclusions regarding the potential enhanced Greenhouse effect’ as described in the words of a 1988 Exxon internal memo.4, 5, 6 By the 1990s, the scientific consensus was becoming undeniable and fossil fuel companies publicly accepted the reality of climate change while obscuring their role and historic knowledge of it.7

Despite this incompatibility between the fossil fuel industry and action on climate change, the University of Cambridge provides the fossil fuel industry with profound legitimisation and practical support structures. These structures bolster the extractive capabilities of fossil fuel companies through forcing open exchange streams of people, knowledge and money.

The fossil fuel industry and the University’s association with it distorts the direction of University research and personnel. In addition, this process, termed greenwashing, legitimises the industry at a time when its central and continued role in the creation of the climate crisis is undeniable.

Fossil fuel companies rely on universities like Cambridge to maintain and bolster their social licence to operate. The University takes a small income in exchange for greenwashing the industry, allowing it to co-opt the educational mission of the University to put across an image of an industry that is prestigious, charitable and scientifically rigorous. I’d like to briefly talk about some of the ways the University does this.

First, named Professorships like the BP Professorship of Chemistry, the Shell Professor of Chemical Engineering, and the Schlumberger Professorship of Complex Physical Systems. These Professorships allow fossil fuel companies to gain a veneer of social legitimacy and indicate a deeper perversion of academic research towards achieving industry goals. In most cases the Professorships are associated with the establishment of a trust fund in the form of a capital endowment invested with the income used to fund expenditure.

Second, awards and prizes such as the ExxonMobil Prize and the BP Chemistry Prizes are relatively cheap attempts by fossil fuel corporations to portray themselves as socially acceptable companies to students. This greenwashing project also works to funnel students into fossil fuel jobs upon graduation.

Third, events like the Shell Annual Lecture are sponsored by fossil fuel companies to put forward an image of themselves as an exciting and necessary part of the academy. Historically, we know how effective this has been for destructive industries, and also how effective it would be to simply refuse: denying prestigious platforms to speakers from tobacco companies was a key strategy for eroding their social licence and forcing them to change.

Less than a week ago the Vice-Chancellor stood in this room and talked about Cambridge’s role in tackling fundamental global challenges and supporting the global transition to a carbon neutral future by harnessing the full breadth of the University’s research and teaching capabilities. This announcement is deeply disingenuous and reeks of PR spin in the context of the greenwashing function the University performs. If the University genuinely wishes to support the global transition to a carbon neutral future it should end its association with the fossil fuel companies through Professorships, awards, prizes and events.


Ms A. Gilderdale (CUSU Ethical Affairs Officer and Robinson College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, recently the University of Cambridge published articles on the University’s sustainable food policy and how the University catering service has cut their carbon emissions by a third. We hear news like this – reports of shifts in waste management, ‘Green Impact’ ceremonies, or the increasing numbers of cyclists in the area – frequently, allowing Cambridge to paint a very green image of itself. But while these changes are important, they are small-scale, piecemeal shifts which are misleadingly cast as huge successes. These small wins are flooding the airwaves because, in reality, the University is not making the kinds of radical and drastic environmental actions and policies which are needed in the face of the current climate crisis.

As a University which calls itself a global leader, we have seen time and time again that these words are not followed by substantive action. Cambridge is an institution led by the privileged, for whom ‘business as usual’ is the most convenient and profitable arrangement. Whilst the richest 10% of people around the world are responsible for 50% of total global emissions, the poorest half of the global population are only responsible for around 10%. Yet, it is these communities which disproportionately face the effects of fossil-fueled climate change. As the richest university in Europe, one which has undeniably benefited from the exploitation of the Global South, it is our responsibility to repair the climate crisis which is overwhelmingly affecting those in the Global South, particularly women and indigenous groups. We need this University to take immediate and radical action on its carbon footprint whilst understanding it as an issue which intersects with inequalities related to race, gender, disability and nationality.

In practice, Cambridge must become the ‘leader’ it claims to be: use its wealth to work towards net zero carbon by 2030, and understand that anything less is unacceptable. Whilst the University is currently reporting on its new carbon reduction projects and its catering service successes, it is suggesting to the public that the University as a whole is making these changes. In actual fact, the range of these actions do not reach any of the Colleges or wider Cambridge-owned institutions. The University often claims that its Colleges work as autonomous institutions, however it is now necessary that the University pressures Colleges to act in alignment with these carbon reduction actions. We must see new College-wide discussions on the climate crisis involving members of the student body, not simply an opaque cross-College environmental panel only attended by the Bursars. There is no choice for these institutions as the public will no longer fall for the University’s greenwashing news, and students will work to uncover the University’s inaction around this issue over and over again.

We must also see a real understanding of how the University’s capital expansion programme is not in line with its carbon targets, and therefore we call for a pause to its capital expansion programme until all new builds can be whole-life costed and in line with a 2030 carbon neutral target. A university which is expanding for business is not one which takes the climate crisis seriously. As long as profit is a key driver of the University’s functioning, we cannot seriously believe that Cambridge is working to cut emissions, moving towards a carbon-neutral future, or working towards fighting the injustices which fuel the inequalities of climate degradation.

As the Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope wrote on the 20 September, ‘Climate change is real and it is happening here and now’. Whilst the University may support striking staff and students, whilst it continues to work to benefit the rich and privileged, it is still not accepting its responsibility to combat climate destruction. With these words should come immediate action: Cambridge must increase its efforts to work towards clear and transparent carbon targets, working with students along the way.

Mr A. M. Memon (Jesus College):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the University of Cambridge recently announced its new initiative titled Cambridge Zero, which states on its website: ‘A bold response to the world’s greatest challenge’. Then goes on to state that:

The University of Cambridge is building on its existing research and launching an ambitious new climate change initiative. We are calling on the world’s brightest and best external partners to join us in creating a zero-carbon future.

The obvious question is, what is this bold response and who are the partners being involved? In the section on ‘Carbon drawdown and climate repair’ the partner stated is oil giant BP. Now I do understand BP has been trying to portray itself as being concerned about and wanting to combat the climate crisis. But it’s no secret BP has always been involved in these initiatives to earn legitimacy.

In fact, last year it was reported that BP was aggressively self-assertive about putting a price on carbon. The oil giant was one of six companies to call on governments around the world to adopt a global price on carbon in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks in 2015. During the process, it also became part of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, as well as a founding member of the Climate Leadership Council. But then it was revealed that BP spent almost US $13 million to defeat a measure to set a carbon price. In fact overall, the oil industry has spent over $28 million in the US alone to stop the Bill from passing, making it the most expensive Washington state wide ballot initiative in history. So BP was a member of all these coalitions and councils, just for PR purposes and to keep track of the narrative so they can then spend money behind closed doors to combat all those initiatives.

And it is nothing new for BP to pump money into hiring corporate spin doctors. One such example was an organisation by the name of Purple Strategies, which was hired by BP shortly after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The oil spill, the worst in US history, killed eleven crew members and released nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of 87 days. In the following months, Purple Strategies carefully tracked public opinion and crafted strategies to limit the fallout for the company from the disaster. At one point, BP was spending an estimated US $10,000 per day to dominate Google search results with positive content. One staffer at Purple Strategies allegedly falsely introduced himself to a reporter as working with ChemRisk, a scientific consulting firm that published questionable research downplaying health risks from the spill.

BP’s ties with Cambridge are more than clear – with all the funds it gives the University, the Professorships that it funds, the scholarships it awards the students, and the institutions with which it is involved. In fact, from these institutions, the focus of the research outcome has been almost entirely on improving drilling outcomes. As such, partnering with these oil corporations has not and will never result in any positive change. Hence Cambridge University should not undermine its reputation by partnering with BP.

Lastly, I do not know what the reason was behind the naming of Cambridge Zero, which sounds incomplete or at the very least looks like it is hinting at something. Maybe zero emissions? But what emissions? Carbon? So why not Cambridge Zero Carbon? The point I’m trying to get at is the University does not seem to be interested in any real meaningful action, apart from attempts at copying others – Cambridge Zero Carbon’s brand in this case, but generally other ideas – for mere PR purposes. And I hope this is not an attempt to hide Cambridge University’s almost non-existent track record of countering climate crisis by associating itself with the hard work of members of Cambridge Zero Carbon Society. And I also hope that it is not an attempt to divert search engines from directing people to Zero Carbon Society’s articles criticising University’s investments in and ties with the fossil fuel industry, to this new initiative claiming to combat climate crisis by involving BP.

In any case I hope Cambridge Zero Carbon Society renames itself to completely disassociate with this, yet another pseudo initiative by the University management to repair the planet by partnering with corporations who damaged it in the first place and have no interest in the future of the planet.

Mr M. V. Lucas-Smith (Department of Geography):

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, sustainable transport remains an area in which the University is sadly lacking. Not just in current day-to-day travel, but the planning of future estates.

As long ago as 2005, the University commissioned a local expert consultant to review cycle parking on the central sites. It came up with clear recommendations for increasing current provision and eradicating insecure cycle parking. Yet, almost fifteen years on, almost nothing has been done.

My own Department, Geography, still has 1960s-style concrete blocks and 1970s wheelbender stands to which the frame cannot be locked.1 This leaves bikes vulnerable to theft, right next to the gate into the site. Although Geography received some new stands a year ago, these have merely been left sitting on the ground rather than properly secured.

Cycle parking is an utterly basic sustainable transport measure, and the University cannot even get that right. The amounts of money to sort this out properly are small. It is a clear mark of failure to regard cycling (and sustainable transport more generally) as a basic fundamental measure which enables staff, and students, to have confidence that they can cycle to work or lectures and be able to get home again.

Even newer buildings fall far short. The Alison Richard Building has a clear expanse of space in front of it where cycle parking could be installed, yet bikes are left to lie next to walls and against trees insecurely and untidily.2 The University could solve the problem simply by putting in an uncontroversial planning application, and allocating merely £4,000 to install 40 stands, which would make 80 cycles now secure, tidy and welcomed.

The new provision of cycle racks on the New Museums site3 only happened because Cambridge Cycling Campaign objected to the David Attenborough Building, whose increased activity was to exacerbate an existing shortage of cycle parking. That organisation had been campaigning for fifteen years to get the site sorted out, and as the last objector to the scheme, it was only the threat of holding up a £37m project that suddenly – within a few weeks – the University agreed to new cycle parking. This finally got rid of an asbestos-covered 1950s-style shed,4 a typical monument to the standard of provision that remains around much of the University.

Moreover, the planning of new estates is failing to take priority for cycling along streets in new connecting highways seriously.

Despite supposedly being a low-car development, the University’s new estate entrance at Madingley Road has a hostile junction clearly designed for high car throughput leaving or entering the site. Pedestrians wanting to cross diagonally have to stop at four crossings,5 press the lights each time, and wait for cars. Cycling is awkward, and the University’s planning permission meant that the new publicly-funded Huntingdon Road cycleway, which has much improved safety for staff and students of the University and of Girton College, has a hole in this section. If you log on to Google StreetView, and go along Huntingdon Road, you will see that the new cycleway suddenly turns into white paint around Eddington Avenue,6 with a vast expanse of tarmac through the junction, interrupting a long, protected cycleway.

The University presumably took standard off-the-shelf designs, probably from some consultant sitting in a London or Birmingham office, and plonked them in a city of cycling. The University should be doing better than this. It should be hiring consultants with knowledge of Dutch road design principles, which ensure safety, convenience, and result in high levels of cycling, because the roads are then safe for everyone to use. Instead, we have ended up with a huge junction that will lock in car-borne travel for the coming decades. This could actually be fixed with relatively small amounts of money.

Within Eddington itself, despite good intentions and a higher-than-average standard achieved, the cycleway loses priority at sideroads,7 resulting in slow, stop-start cycling and lack of clarity when interacting with drivers. This is even at variance with what was explicitly put in the planning application, yet this error is still not corrected. The Dutch can do this properly, so can we.

The University Council will no doubt respond that it is ‘aiming to promote sustainable transport’ and that ‘cycling is thought about in new developments’ and other such meaningless phrases. This is not good enough.

The University should be actively designing every new development, and upgrading every existing cycle parking location, to cater for much higher levels of cycling – cycling levels which are made possible if infrastructure is made safe for everybody to use. A 60% level of cycling by staff should be strongly aimed for, alongside measures like Park and Ride and subsidised bus travel, given the increasing number of staff who are forced to live further and further away from the city due to house prices.

So, what should the University do? The first thing it should do is reinstate its Cycling and Walking Subgroup, whose membership included people around the University who understand the problems and who have offered solutions. There is much willingness around the University to help resolve things.

Secondly, it should set a clear target for cycling of 60% of staff journeys, as just noted. Cycling should be thought of as a real mode of transport, not something that people will tolerate doing and for which no proper space is allocated, on the basis that ‘oh, people will manage, it’s only a bike’.

Thirdly, and most importantly, Estate Management should undertake a simple tendering exercise to identify and hire modern transport consultants who have the knowledge to design streets according to modern, Dutch principles. These are principles which are entirely achievable within UK highways standards, as Transport for London, and now Cambridgeshire County Council, have been showing. We must not accept highway designs that design for the 2% levels of cycling in Birmingham, but instead for the very high levels of cycling in a city like Cambridge. If cycle provision is not something that a parent with a small child can use, it is not designed properly. Yet that is what we see on most of the new developments that the University is building. Cycling must not only be for fit younger males, it should be for everyone. The Dutch have done it, so can we.

Fourthly, the University must identify funding of probably c . £200,000 to sort out the historic deficit of cycle parking problems around all the sites. This means a consultant to go round the sites and update the existing reports from 2005, cost up the changes, submit a set of planning applications in one go which zap up all these problems, and go out on site implementing this. This could all be achieved and finalised within this academic year if the University actually regarded the climate emergency as a climate emergency. Will the Council please undertake to allocate a specific and budgeted project that actually sorts out this long-running sore once and for all, and to address the other proposals that I have made?

Dr J. E. Scott-Warren (University Council, Faculty of English, and Gonville and Caius College), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the message of Greta Thunberg and the school strikers needs to be heard in universities too. We are currently educating our students for a future that does not exist. The fact that we find this message so hard to absorb, even as the glaciers melt, permafrost thaws, wildfires rage and ecosystems collapse, says a lot about the baked-in arrogance of our species. The University is in a sense the embodiment of that arrogance, the belief that we can think our way out of any crisis. There is also a conspiracy of silence on the climate issue that arises from our deep understanding that thinking may, in the current scenario, prove fruitless.

I have been distressed, for many years, by the University’s refusal to divest from fossil fuels. Given the human toll that climate breakdown is taking across the world, this is morally equivalent with a refusal to divest from the slave trade. (Try replacing ‘But we all rely on fossil fuels and these companies are just servicing our needs!’ with ‘But we all rely on slaves…!’ – it’s easy enough.) While we continue to invest, we give fossil fuel companies the reassurance that, however dirty their money may be, it is still money that can be laundered by putting it towards educational good causes. While we continue to invest, we prop up share prices and we fund the process of searching for new oilfields that locks us in to the fossil economy for decades to come. When you mention any of this to the Finance Officers of the University, they tell you that if you don’t like being complicit in the fossil economy, you could always give up your job. The implication is that oil is money, and that our pay packets depend on it. Similar arguments were doubtless made against those who desired an end to the slave trade.

Beyond fossil fuel divestment, the University’s recent efforts to act on the climate crisis have been lacklustre. We seem not to have the capacity to establish how staff get to work and to find ways of cutting down on single-occupancy car journeys. We have done nothing to assess and reduce levels of academic flying, blithely assuming that this issue will somehow fix itself. We are about to concrete over another swathe of former green belt land at Eddington, and we are lamely trotting along with the government’s proposal for an Oxford-Cambridge expressway, rather than speaking out against that ecocidal proposal. We continue to take donations from fossil fuel producers, and to train students to develop fossil fuel infrastructure. We still have no place for environmental risk on our risk register, despite the likelihood that severe shocks will be coming our way very soon. The fact that our universities have now been made over as servants of the false god of economic growth has done much to predetermine our inability to respond to the great unravelling.

What can we do? We need individual members of the University, from students to Heads of Department and Heads of House, to petition the Vice-Chancellor to act. We need to set aside our bureaucratic divisions, to override the College system and the walls between Departments and Schools, and to pull together as a single entity. We need to find a collective voice with which to declare a climate emergency. We need to reassess our relationship to an economic model that has brought the web of life to the brink of collapse, and to ask how a university might live within what are likely to be sharply decreasing means. I have very little hope, but have heard that hope is the enemy. It’s time to make a virtue of despair.

Ms C. Bayley (Robinson College), read by the Deputy Senior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, I am a student at Cambridge who is becoming increasingly worried about the global climate crisis. Beyond the loss of wildlife, occuring even within the UK, are losses of biodiversity and stable weather patterns which ultimately make our lives possible.

Of course any changes Cambridge makes by itself will not noticeably affect global heating, but united together universities could make a substantial impact. If Cambridge University were to make real changes to its investment policy and prevent itself from contributing to the harmful greenhouse gases affecting the planet, surely other universities would follow suit? It is by example that Cambridge can pioneer the way and actually help prevent the climate forecasts from worsening.

I am currently seriously distressed by the University’s faliure to meet its sustainability targets – which are, like the new targets, underambitious. I cannot understand how reaching them will be effective enough.

I am a student at Cambridge who is becoming increasingly worried about the global climate crisis. Please hear my words and respond.

The Rev’d J. L. Caddick (Faculty of Biology, Faculty of Divinity, and Emmanuel College), read by the Junior Proctor:

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, on 1 October the Vice‑Chancellor addressed the University. Towards the beginning of his address he asked:

My question today is: what stories of discovery will we be telling about the University ten, twenty, or fifty years from now? ... How will we have contributed to mitigating the existential threat of climate change?

Our topic of concern today is ‘The University response to the climate crisis beyond divestment.’ Looking at what the Vice-Chancellor had to say on 1 October, it is clear that he would indeed like to talk about the University’s response to the climate emergency without mentioning our investments, but that the more he says on the subject, the more deafening becomes his silence on this crucial question.

In his address he announced the launch of Cambridge Zero, an ambitious programme to deploy the University’s research strength in the cause of aiding our search for a sustainable way to continue to live on our planet. That is indeed good. I hope Cambridge Zero is a major force in addressing the challenges that face us. He also announced ‘bold targets’ committing the University to a 75% reduction in energy based CO2 emissions by 2030 and ‘absolute zero’ by 2048. ‘What could be more urgent?’ he asked. Again I hope we do achieve these aims, but we have had ‘bold targets’ before. Before 2018 we had a target to reduce our emissions by 34% compared to 2006 by 2021. We are not going to manage that, so we reduced the target to a 6% reduction, and suddenly our progress looks more encouraging. The central difficulty with all this is that it begins to look like the tactics of distraction from the most difficult questions, which are those of money and power. Difficult though that is, if we are to fulfil our mission as a world leading University we need to start telling it as it is.

The Vice-Chancellor described climate change as an ‘existential threat’. The more he acknowledges the seriousness of the threat, the more indefensible becomes his reluctance to talk about our investments. Climate collapse is indeed an existential threat, a threat to our existence. If we carry on on our current course we are in line for a temperature rise of more than four degrees. That is arguably incompatible with continued human life, certainly life as we would recognise it. I am glad the Vice-Chancellor acknowledges the size of the threat, but in the face of that how can he not discuss how the University uses its money? Our continued investment in fossil fuel companies allies us with the mechanisms that are acting for our own destruction. Fossil fuel companies which continue to prospect for oil when we already have more than can safely be used, are not our friends in this struggle. If we are to avoid disaster we need to find a way of living that does not depend on taking carbon out of the ground and burning it. The continued respectability of fossil fuel companies needs to be brought to an end. They need to stop what they are currently doing. Economic reality means that they will not do that without forceful political action. The University needs to decide which side it is on.

Second-stage Report of the Council, dated 12 June 2019, on the construction of a new Heart and Lung Research Institute on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus

(Reporter, 6555, 2018–19, p. 806)

No remarks were made on this Report.

Report of the Council, dated 24 September 2019, on the period of appointment for the next external member of Council

(Reporter, 6560, 2019–20, p. 11)

No remarks were made on this Report.