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Trinity commits to net zero by 2050 and divestment from fossil fuels

Trinity Fellows students, alumni and staff have welcomed changes to the College’s investment policy, which has been amended to commit to net zero carbon emissions before 2050, in line with the spirit of the Paris Agreement.

Trinity’s endowment will now have a dual mandate: to continue delivering sustainable income growth and to commit to a significant, lasting and positive impact on improving its environmental footprint and achieving net zero before 2050.

The move includes divestment from all fossil fuel investments in public equities by the end of 2021.

The UK government is legally bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 100% relative to 1990 levels by 2050, in line with the international 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably limited to 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels. ‘Net zero’ is achieved when the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced are cancelled out by those removed from the atmosphere.

Trinity’s Senior Bursar, Richard Turnill

Trinity’s Senior Bursar, Richard Turnill, said the decision to change Trinity’s investment policy had been taken after extensive consultation with Fellows, students, other Colleges and experts.

We now have an ambitious plan to achieve net zero before 2050, which, while challenging, given the nature of the endowment’s portfolio, is achievable and consistent with the College’s income growth objectives. We will move rapidly where we can, starting with divestment from all fossil fuel exposure in our public equities this year.

The Master, Dame Sally Davies, said the new approach was ‘a significant step in Trinity’s journey to addressing climate change.’

This is clearly an issue that extends beyond the endowment. The WHO cited climate change, along with pandemics, as one of the key global health challenges of the 2020s and we at Trinity intend to bring together expertise both within and beyond the College to play a greater role in further climate change action.

To achieve net zero before 2050, Trinity will need to go far beyond divestment, which affects around 1% of the College’s total investments. Action to reduce emissions within Trinity’s property portfolio – which accounts for 60% of the endowment – will be vital and, says Mr Turnill, offers significant opportunities to invest in ways that will have a positive impact on the environment.

The new approach to its investments means that in 2021 Trinity will:

  • Extend the list of investment exclusions to all companies that generate significant revenues from the extraction, supply, or distribution of fossil fuel. Trinity will divest from all remaining fossil fuel exposure in public equities by the end of 2021. The residual exposure to fossil fuels held in Trinity’s private equity portfolio (representing less than 5% of total fossil fuel exposure in current holdings), and which are illiquid, will be divested within a 5-10 year period.
  • Establish metrics and interim science-based targets to be reported on alongside the financial performance of the endowment by the end of 2021. This will include setting ambitious 5 and 10-year targets.
  • Commission a detailed baseline study of the endowment’s existing carbon footprint by the end of April 2021 and, by the end of August 2021, build a roadmap to net zero. The baseline and roadmap will encompass the College’s whole portfolio (including securities and property), and will define net zero using the broadest definition, including both direct and indirect emissions.

Former Master of Trinity, Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal, said the decision was welcome and timely.

Trinity has a fine record of discovery and innovation in medicine, engineering and bioscience. Such expertise can surely help to accelerate global efforts towards a sustainable world – via improved health, food production, and ‘clean’ energy efficiency. Given this motivation, it’s appropriate that the College should steward its own endowments and property in a ‘green’ and ethical fashion.

Director of Cambridge Zero and Trinity alumna, Professor Emily Shuckburgh, who is a member of Trinity’s Climate Change Working Group, said:

In the months ahead of the UK hosting the UN Climate Change conference in November, it is fantastic to see Trinity joining the global coalition of businesses, cities, regions and investors committed to the same overarching goal of achieving net zero emissions before 2050.

There are so many ways in which thinking originating from Trinity has shaped human advancement over the centuries. The opportunity now is for that thinking to help define a resilient and sustainable zero-carbon future and secure the wellbeing of people and planet.

TRIS President, Ollie Hailes.

Trinity students also welcomed the news. President of Trinity Responsible Investment Society (TRIS), Ollie Hailes, said:

TRIS welcomes the College’s commitments to fossil-fuel divestment and carbon neutrality. Since its founding in 2018, the College has supported efforts of TRIS to advocate for positive changes to the endowment, whether by hosting forums for debate or by representing the College at shareholder meetings of energy companies and financial institutions.

Trinity’s transition is a testament to the steadfast engagement of many groups inside and outside of the College, including students, alumni, the Bursary and the Council’s Climate Change Working Group.

By committing to carbon neutrality, Trinity College has shown that divestment is only the first step for responsible investors in a longer journey toward a just and sustainable future. TRIS will continue to support the College on that journey.

TCSU Environmental Officer, Elianna Proud

Elianna Proud, Environmental Officer of Trinity College Students’ Union, was delighted by the decision.

TCSU and student body have long supported divestment and a commitment to being carbon neutral. To see our College continue its work towards a more ethical and sustainable future by making this significant pledge is very exciting for us all.

We are pleased and proud to be a part of a College that wants to invest responsibly and takes our current climate crisis and ecological emergency seriously.

Darren Peterson, Liaison Officer of Trinity’s BA Society, said:

These initiatives represent great first steps and the BA Society is eager to see the changes that Trinity implements as it considers the broader environmental impact of its operations. We look forward to the continued engagement and involvement of students as Trinity moves to a carbon neutral future.

John Shakeshaft, one of four alumni on Trinity’s Investment Committee that advises on the management of the endowment, said:

The College has thoughtfully revised its investment policy to ensure that the endowment can contribute meaningfully to understanding climate change, promoting carbon zero through the portfolio and sustain the real income of the College for the accomplishment of its purposes.

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