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£6M Shell donation to Cambridge for oil extraction research sparks backlash


By David Schwartz
Published: November 12th, 2019

Cambridge University has accepted a £6 million donation from Shell to fund research into oil extraction technology, and the gift is prompting backlash from environmental activists, who point to the university’s public declarations of support and involvement in sustainability.

The donation is funding the university’s magnetic resonance research group, but it comes amidst a concerted campaign by students and staff to persuade the university to sever its links with extractive industries.

Critics have lambasted the donation as a reversal of the school’s recent decision to divest its endowment of large holdings in fossil fuel corporations.

The Shell donation was approved in March, but it were not included among official disclosures in July, when most donations from the last academic year were announced. Details have emerged days before a senior Shell executive is due to address senior university staff on whether Cambridge should continue to accept funding from fossil fuel companies. Some critics questioned whether the donation and the speaking invitation are linked.

The funding from Shell was described by the university as “the final gift in a commitment [dating] back to 2014” to fund the magnetic resonance research group. “The main focus of [the] proposed research related to the gift is on supporting the transition to a zero-carbon economy by improving chemical reactions in fuel cells, electrolysers and making chemical processes for industrial use more sustainable,” a Cambridge spokesperson said.

However, it appears the lead research on the project is involved in oil recovery technologies.

A spokesperson for the university said that as it accepted the latest funding from Shell, it had called for a “set of principles” by which to assess future donations from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction and other controversial industries.

It was on this basis that it had invited Lynch, alongside others, to speak at the university on the issue. “The university has invited, among others, the student society Cambridge Zero Carbon, Friends of the Earth, climate scientists, Shell, council members and members of the [university’s committee on benefactions and external and legal affairs] to the meeting,” it said.

Source: The Guardian

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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