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Cambridge University Council appoints author of fossil fuel funding study

The report is intended to facilitate an “informed debate” on proposed changes

The University Council recently announced (02/02/23) that Nigel Topping, the High-Level Climate Champion for COP26, will author a report advising the potential impacts on the University of reducing funding from the fossil fuel industry.

A spokesperson for Cambridge Climate Justice, a student activist group, says they “urge Nigel Topping to recognise that blame for the climate crisis lies squarely at the doors of the fossil fuel industry. For decades it has been, and continues to be, a bad faith actor that is spending big to obstruct a rapid and just energy transition.”

The forthcoming report follows a Grace presented to the University Council by members of the University’s governing body, The Regent House. The Grace suggested an end to accepting funding from the fossil fuel industry.

In October, the University Council withheld authorisation of the Grace, citing a concern for not having “sufficient information to do justice to the proposals and to be able to reach an evidence-based decision.” This prevented the Grace from being voted on by the more than 7,200 Regent House members.

Mr Topping has extensive experience in the fields of emissions reductions and climate advisory. According to the Cabinet Office, he has served as “CEO of We Mean Business, a coalition of businesses working to accelerate the transition to a zero carbon economy.”

In addition, he is currently serving as a Non-Executive Director at the UK Infrastructure Bank and an Honorary Professor in Economics at the University of Exeter.

Mr Topping is also a Mathematics alumnus of the University of Cambridge.

The scope of the report is broad and will consider potential impacts on a range of areas across the University. The Council has encouraged Mr Topping to consider the issue “from different perspectives.” Ultimately, the report’s purpose is “to analyse the likely impact of the proposals in the Grace on the University’s mission.”

Among other considerations, the report will investigate “the likely impact on, and implications for, the University’s duties in relation to academic freedom, freedom of speech, academic independence and research ethics.”

It is The University Council’s wish that the study will be ready “as early as possible in the Lent Term 2023.” When completed, it will be published in the University’s Reporter.

Cambridge Climate Justice added that “Cambridge has no time to waste in ending its legitimisation of an illegitimate industry.”

They “look forward to engaging with Nigel Topping on these important issues.”

The University of Cambridge was approached for comment.