A Debate hosted by The University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute on the 16th March 2015
Filmed and Edited by Toby Smith
Do Universities have a responsibility towards people & the planet?
How should they manage their research and investment portfolios?
Do they have a duty to lead debate on energy and climate change?
Susan Watts, science journalist/ex-science editor for BBC Newsnight
Dag Rune Olsen, Rektor of the University of Bergen
Nicola Padfield, Master of Fitzwilliam College
Alison Smith, acting Head of Department, Plant Sciences
Rob Lake, Independent Responsible Investment Advisor
What are the challenges that Universities face in terms of managing research and investment portfolios which interface with external partners? How should Universities respond to public scrutiny of these activities, and perceptions about their ethical responsibilities to current and future generations, and the planet? Should universities manage their investments to reflect these concerns? Do they have a duty to guide public debate on climate change and energy policy and how far should this be reflected in their research and teaching?
A panel discussion on the roles and responsibilities of Universities in relation to activities that impact on planetary sustainability, chaired by Susan Watts, science journalist and ex-science editor for BBC Newsnight. Panel members are the Rektor of the University of Bergen, Dag Rune Olsen, Nicola Padfield, Master of Fitzwilliam College, Professor Alison Smith, acting Head of Department, Plant Sciences and Rob Lake, Independent Responsible Investment Advisor.
Student campaigns and public concern over ethical investment, as well as wider societal expectations in relation to the ways in which Universities handle their responsibilities to people and the planet, have been in sharp focus recently. In Norway, following an approach from the University of Bergen in relation to petroleum research, the Norwegian National Committee for Research Ethics in Science and Technology (NENT) issued an opinion in 2014 which stated that “achieving the goal of sustainability requires a transition to sustainable energy and knowledge development. Research funding authorities and research institutions are ascribed a special responsibility in this connection while the universities have a specific responsibility in their role as knowledge bearers.”(1) In a number of countries, Universities have actively entered this debate, and some have taken steps to adjust their investment and research portfolios after a reconsideration of these responsibilities. (2) Other public institutions, including those associated with research funding, have joined this discussion. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced its intention to take steps towards divestment in September 2014 (3), while the Wellcome Trust has argued that engagement is better than disengagement. (4) Just last month, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), worth $850bn (£556bn) and founded on the nation’s oil and gas wealth, revealed a total of 114 companies which had been removed on environmental and climate grounds in its first report on responsible investing. (5)
For further details, please contact
Dr Bhaskar Vira, Director, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute.
Families pan sediment for gold in the Namorona River close to Ramonofana National Park. The sediment is mined in his village close to the river-side. In 2011 the price of Gold peaked at E1379.09 per oz and in the same year 50 hectares of primary forest were destroyed by mining. The sediment in the river water causes further damage downstream.