University of Cambridge Halts New Partnerships With Fossil Fuel Companies

Photo: Marine Mercier

The University of Cambridge has at last made moves to pause its toxic relationship with the fossil fuel industry, announcing a moratorium on all new funded partnerships with Big Oil in late March 2024.

The move comes after two years of direct campaigning from students, academics and community members for “ Fossil Free Research” and over a decade of broader campaigning to remove the industry’s influence from our campus.

Industry-funded research has been shown to bias outcomes in favour of the industry itself – evident across tobacco, pharmaceutical and sugar funding as well as Big Oil. Beyond threatening academic integrity, Cambridge’s partnerships provide social capital, allowing those who are most at fault for the climate crisis to pretend they have a strong stake in solving it. In other words, it serves a largely greenwashing function. Cambridge takes an average of £3.3 million in fossil fuel funding each year – a negligible and easily replaceable proportion of its total annual research and philanthropy income. And yet for the oil and gas companies, the partnership with universities like Cambridge grants significant lobbying, advertising and media benefits. 

This moratorium is absolutely a win for the climate and campaigners. For the first time in the UK, there has been a university-wide fossil free research policy. Cambridge is also one of the first universities in the world to implement such a policy. The process has involved countless rallies, occupations, speeches, graces (motions that academics can vote on), governance committee debates etc. over two years – and there’s more to be done. 

This moratorium is hopefully the last step in a permanent decision. The moratorium will hold while the University’s committee on external donations (CBELA) considers how to implement the recommendations of the Topping study. This was a report commissioned by the University, written by UN High Level Climate Champion Nigel Topping in July 2023. He found that the University could not justify its fossil fuel partnerships and made four recommendations for how to eliminate fossil fuel companies from our funding roster. It is crucial that CBELA’s decision makes its principles permanent.

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