THE BLOG

An Open Letter from Gates Cambridge Scholars to the Gates Foundation to Divest in Fossil Fuels

07/12/2015 10:36 GMT | Updated 06/12/2016 10:12 GMT

Dear Bill and Melinda Gates and Gates Foundation Trustees,

We, the undersigned Gates Cambridge scholars and alumni, are writing this letter to urge the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to divest from fossil fuels. Today, divestment from fossil fuels is an ethical choice befitting the ideals of the Gates Foundation and its belief in humanitarian leadership.

There is no greater challenge facing humanity today than that of global climate change.

The scientific consensus is clear: to limit further warming between two thirds and four-fifths of currently known reserves of fossil fuels have to stay in the ground. We welcome the recent move by the Gates Foundation to double its current investments in renewable technology initiatives, but also insist that divesting from fossil fuels is a logical and necessary follow-on from this.

We are motivated to write this letter as recipients of Gates Cambridge Scholarships, which were endowed in 2001 by a generous donation to the University of Cambridge from the Gates Foundation. Our scholarship calls us to demonstrate leadership and a commitment to improving the lives of others, values shared by the Gates Foundation.

As scholars from across the world, we know that our home countries and communities will experience climate change in very different ways, but without doubt the impact will be significant. Many of us come from places that are already suffering the effects of the 0.8 degrees temperature rise in recent decades. We know far too well what another 1.2 or above will mean.

Climate change affects the poor the most. Disastrous climate change with extreme weather such as storms, droughts, floods and rising sea levels will drive hundreds of millions of people away from their homes and place their livelihoods in jeopardy.

Climate change undermines improvements in global health, as well as in local and international food security: areas the Gates Foundation has championed. As much recent research - including some of our own ongoing work - shows, a stable climate is essential for ensuring the well-being of humans across the world. Providing clean, reliable, energy not based on fossil fuels has the capacity to positively transform communities, reduce pollution, and enhance the health of impoverished populations.

The Gates Foundation aims to tackle dynamic and complex global problems and it has recognised climate change as precisely such a challenge. In this regard, the Foundation's investment in breakthrough energy technology is heartening and must be amplified by appropriate community action and policy. Investing in green technology alone is not enough; a multi-pronged approach is critical, and divestment from fossil fuels augments the Foundation's resolve to reduce global warming.

The importance of such an act has already been recognised by several prominent international organisations. The world's largest investment fund, the Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund, recently decided to sell its shares in coal. And it is not alone: across the globe, the call for universities, institutions, and pension funds to divest is growing at a rapid pace. Among those who have already divested are the Rockefeller Foundation, Stanford University, banks, pension funds, and even whole cities. Divestment movements and other sustainable economic initiatives are growing and we as Gates Scholars want to ensure that they continue to do so.

Divestment by the Gates Foundation constitutes an act of leadership compelling others to make policy decisions appropriate to the moment's urgency. Divesting sends a powerful message to fossil fuel companies and places pressure upon these businesses to adopt environmentally sound practice. The Gates Foundation can and should use its power, money and privilege to pave the way for a more enlightened global economy.

Here at Cambridge, the University Council has recently convened a working group with the mandate to review how the University's endowment can be more closely aligned with principles of social and environmental sustainability. The review will explore a range of options, from divestment to positive reinvestment. This review is driven by a growing recognition that it is untenable to separate our monetary investments from the vision of the world we want to see. If we undertake research or studies in pursuit of a just future, then we need to ensure that our financial affiliations do not compromise the thrust of our academic work.

Responsible, well-informed, and philanthropically guided financial conduct is crucial in a world where the rise in temperatures will have a devastating impact upon human lives, ecosystems, and stable political systems. It is for this reason that 224,000 people have already signed the Guardian's campaign urging the Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Our hope as beneficiaries of the Gates Foundation's philanthropy is that the Foundation will grasp this unique and historic moment to align its investment practice with the commitment to improving the lives of others in order to create a prosperous global society.

Our research and studies span the broad range of fields and degrees at the University of Cambridge. We come from sciences like polar studies and clean energy, social sciences like gender and politics, and the humanities like french thought and english literature. Yet all of us acknowledge the importance of divesting from fossil fuels as a step to create the equal and ethical future for the planet that the Gates Foundation also aspires to bring into being.

Signed,

Hanna Danbolt Ajer, MPhil Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, 2014

Chiara Avancini, PhD Psychology, 2014

Aliya Bagewadi, MPhil Land Economy, 2015

Geneviève Barrons, MPhil African Studies, 2013

Mia Bennett, MPhil Polar Studies, 2013

Sytske Besemer, PhD Criminology, 2008

Anjali Bhardwaj-Datta, PhD History, 2009

Libby Blanchard, MPhil, 2012, PhD Geography, 2013

Helena Billington, MPhil Epidemiology, 2014

Andrea Binder, PhD Politics and International Studies, 2014

Erica Cao, MPhil Music Studies, 2013

Hannah Carlan, MPhil Social Anthropology, 2013

Matthew Cassels, PhD Psychiatry, 2014

Edward Chouchani, PhD, 2013

Pepe Clarke, MPhil Conservation Leadership, 2014

Joshua Cohen, MPhil Computational Biology, 2013

Camille Cole, MPhil Historical Studies, 2013

Margaret Comer, PhD Archaeology, 2015

Sarah Cooley, MPhil Polar Studies, 2015

Adam Cowden, MPhil Planning, Growth and Regeneration, 2014

Ragnhild Freng Dale, PhD Polar Studies, 2013

Sonya Davey, MPhil Geographical Research, 2014

Jacqueline Davis, PhD Psychology, 2014

Rafael Dernbach, PhD German, 2014

Elizabeth Dzeng, PhD Sociology, 2007, 2011

Irene Falk, PhD Clinical Neurosciences, 2014

Luke Fletcher, PhD Politics and International Studies, 2010

Maximilian Fries, PhD Oncology, 2013

Catherine Gascoigne, PhD in Law, 2013

Emily Gladden, MPhil Criminology, 2011

Bérénice Guyot-Réchard, PhD, History, 2009

Kerstin Göpfrich, PhD, Physics, 2013

Philip Graff, PhD Physics, 2012

Ana Maria Guay, MPhil Classics, 2015

Jodi Gustafson, MPhil Conservation Leadership, 2015

Victoria Herrmann, PhD Polar Studies, 2014

Isaac Holeman, PhD Management Studies, 2013

Jonathan Hollander, PhD Materials Science, 2011

Timothy Humpton, PhD Biochemistry 2014

Asiya Islam, PhD Sociology, 2015

Noah Isserman, MPhil, PhD, 2008

Jose Manuel Izquierdo, PhD Music, 2013

Evelyn Jagoda, MPhil, 2015

Jonathan Kanen, PhD Psychology, 2015

Drasko Kascelan, PhD Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, 2015

Shraddha Kaur, PhD Biological Sciences, 2015

Michelle Kelley, MPhil Scientific Computing, 2014

Anna Kendrick, PhD Spanish, 2011

Tae-Yeoun Keum, MPhil Political Thought and Intellectual History, 2009

Eszter Kovacs, PhD Geography, 2010

Bo Shiun Lai, PhD Pathology, 2013

Devinn Lambert, MPhil Biological Sciences, 2014

Judith Lebiez, PhD in German, 2013

Noa Levin, MPhil European Literature and Culture, 2014

Sheina Lew-Levy, MPhil Human Evolution, 2014

Julia Fan Li, MPhil, PhD Innovative Finance, 2008

Jeffrey Lockhart, MPhil Multi-Disciplainary Gender Studies, 2014

Stephanie G Lopez, MPhil in Latin American Studies, 2015

Mathew Syriac Madhavacheril, BA Aff. Natural Sciences (Physics), 2009

Luke Maishman, PhD, Pathology, 2010

Amanda Marzullo, LL.M., Law, 2011

Stephanie Mawson, PhD History 2014

Oliver McMillan, PhD Engineering, 2014

Alice Meyer, PhD English 2013

Marc Mierowsky, PhD English, 2011

Evan Miles, PhD Polar Studies, 2012

Ananya Mishra, MPhil Modern South Asian Studies, 2014

Tisha Mirza, PhD Pathology, 2012

Paulo Savaget Nascimento, PhD Engineering, 2015

Emma Nicholls, PhD in History, 2014

Japinder Nijjer, PhD Applied Maths, 2015

Afrodita Nikolova, PhD, Education

Cillian Ó Fathaigh, PhD French Thought, 2014

Ian Ostericher, PhD Archaeology, 2015

Annika Pecchia-Bekkum, PhD Medicine, 2014

Arazi Pinhas, PhD in Astronomy, 2015

Andrey Poletayev, MPhil Physics, 2011

Victor Roy, PhD Sociology, 2013

Christopher Rae, PhD Biological Science, 2015

Elsa M. Trevino Ramirez, PhD Latin American Studies, 2010

Alexandra Reider, MPhil Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic 2013

Alejandro Rivera Rivera, MPhil Engineering for Sustainable Development, 2015

Rachel Robertson, MPhil Philosophy, 2014

Rebecca Saunderson, MPhil, 2013

Amirah Sequeira, MPhil History and Philosophy of Science, 2014

Evandro da Silveira da Silva, MPhil Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, 2014

Niamh Skelly, MPhil in Social and Developmental Psychology, 2011

Dakota Spear, MPhil Zoology, 2015

Rose Spear, PhD Materials Science and Metallurgy, 2011

Zoe Stewart, PhD Clinical Biochemistry, 2013

Tara Suri, MPhil Multi Disciplinary Gender Studies, 2013

Dan Stori, PhD in Medicine, 2012

Jan Trnka, PhD Biochemistry, 2004

Collin VanBuren, PhD Earth Sciences, 2013

Callie Vandewiele, PhD, Latin American Studies, 2014

Andrea Cabrero Vilatela, MPhil in Micro and Nanotechnology Enterprise, 2011

Naomi Woo, MPhil Performance Studies, 2013

Songqiao Yao, Mphil Geography, 2014