Energy

Cambridge Rejects Oil Divestment, Activists React Predictably

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Anti-fossil fuel activists are blasting Cambridge University for refusing to divest its massive $8.6 billion of oil and gas assets.

The university’s working group on investment responsibility published a report Sunday explaining why it sold off assets in tar sands and coal but kept investments in oil and gas companies; the group believes it’s better to engage with the oil and gas industry than divest from them.

The decision comes after the student’s union council voted 33:1 in favor of divestment, and 2,000 students signed a petition for divestment in April.

Andrew Taylor, the co-director of campaigns at People and Planet, called the university’s decision to purge tar sands and coal “great,” but feels the school’s resistance to oil divestment troubling.

“It’s arrogant of them to think companies like BP and Shell are going to stop making vast profits from oil and gas just because they ask nicely,” Taylor told reporters.

Angus Satow, campaigns officer at the Cambridge Zero Carbon Society, an environmental group at the Cambridge, mirrored many of Taylor’s sentiments.

Satow said: “University administrators have ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence that the fossil fuel industry is not viable if we are to avoid breaching the two-degrees warming limit, they have ignored the strong demands of a united student body, and they have ignored financial common sense. Civil society must stand up to the fossil fuel industry if we want a liveable future.”

The report meanwhile notes that “The group recognizes, therefore, that engagement with fund managers may include such considerations and involve strategies, where feasible, to divest progressively, consistent with the expected performance of the portfolio.”

The university’s report discusses many of the issues highlighted in a study conducted published mid-June by Hendrik Bessembinder, a professor of finance at the Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business.

Endowments use private equity funds and mutual funds to manage their assets, the study notes, most of which hold stock in both green energy firms as well as fossil fuel companies, neither of which are easily disentangled.

The nature of mutual funds, according to the study, seriously complicates fossil fuels divestment activists plan of replacing oil with renewable energy resources. Complicating the issue still further is the fact that most of these commingled funds are not easily converted into cash, making it more difficult to sell them outright.

Cambridge is taking a wait and see approach.

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