Climate protesters from Oxford and Cambridge were searched by police on Hammersmith Bridge during today’s Boat Race. A cloth banner which read “Oxbridge Come Clean” was seized by the authorities.
The students belonged to the pro-divestment groups Cambridge Zero Carbon Society and Oxford Climate Justice Campaign. The groups claim police officers carried a notebook with them which read “Cambridge Zero Carbon”.
A similar protest went ahead last year, when climate protesters dropped a banner reading “Oxbridge Divest” and making national headlines.
Protesters told Cherwell that the police officers justified the searches with claims of protection from terrorism. Saying that the cloth banner is not an item which can create criminal damage, the protesters claim that it was not illegal property.
The twenty-metre banner, which reads “Oxbridge Come Clean”, was meant to be released over the Hammersmith Bridge by a group of approximately 40 students as the first men’s boats passed underneath. The annual boat race is watched by an estimated 250,000 spectators and broadcast live around the world.
In a statement to the media, the groups said: “If nations are to meet the urgent targets set by climate scientists, then continued reliance on fossil fuels is simply no longer an option.
“We call on our universities to use their prominence and influence for good, and lead the way in negotiating investment practices that are sustainable for the future of the natural world and human communities everywhere.
“Oxbridge – and all institutions which claim a role as ‘global leaders’ – must act responsibly in the face of a pressing crisis already destroying millions of lives in the world’s most vulnerable communities.”
The action represents the latest in university fossil fuel divestment campaigns, which have been ongoing at Cambridge for four years and at Oxford for seven.
Previous escalations have seen mass rallies at Cambridge’s Senate House and Oxford’s Clarendon Building, and the occupations of both Oxford’s and Cambridge’s financial and administrative centres.
Oxford and Cambridge continue to invest millions of pounds in environmentally damaging industries, despite calls from staff, students and alumni to relocate these funds. The 2017 Paradise Papers revealed that the two universities were indirectly invested in deep-sea drilling and exploration, which only added to the mounting pressure in favour of divestment.
In the past month, Swansea University and the University of Stirling have pledged to divest, joining the ranks of 76 British universities who have withdrawn financial investments from fossil fuel companies. In 2017, King’s College London agreed to fully divest from fossil fuels after a student went on hunger strike for fourteen days.
Since the autumn of 2017, college-based campaigns for divestment have launched at over 25 Oxford colleges, and 26 student motions in support of divestment have been passed within college junior and middle common rooms.
St Hilda’s has adopted a new investment policy requiring gradual divestment from companies which do not line with Paris Agreement carbon reduction targets, and Wolfson has divested direct holdings from coal and tar sands. Finance bursars at several other colleges are actively working towards sustainable plans with students and staff.
This article will be updated as more information becomes available.
Oxford and Cambridge universities and both universities’ boat clubs have been contacted for comment. The Metropolitan Police had no comment to make at the time of publication.