Cambridge universitys 3.5bn endowment fund has pledged to divest from fossil fuels over the next decade, in a landmark decision that follows a lengthy campaign involving protests, hunger strikes and petitions by students worried about climate change.

The move marks a symbolic step for the uks second-oldest university, which, despite being a leader on science and engineering research related to climate change, has faced sustained criticism over its links to polluting companies.oil companies, including bp, exxonmobil and shell, have donated money to the university. the funds exposure to the energy sector, of which fossil fuel companies are a sub-set, stood at almost 100m at the end of last year. it would not reveal details of individual investments.

The fund, one of the largest of its kind in europe, announced on thursday it would reposition its investment portfolio to remove all direct and indirect investments in the fossil fuel industry by 2030 and aim for net zero greenhouse gas emissions from any company in which it invests by 2038.

Separately, the university said it would from now on vet all future research funding and donations, which totalled about 700m last year, to ensure that those giving money were aligned with the universitys objectives to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Stephen toope, the universitys vice-chancellor, said the decisions reflected cambridges desire to be part of leading not following in the move towards a zero carbon economy.

Universities around the world have come under pressure to divest from fossil fuels in recent years as concerns about climate change grow. according to campaign group people & planet, 12.4bn of endowments across the uk higher education sector have dumped at least some fossil fuel stocks over the past few years.

Oxford university pledged earlier this year to sell out of fossil fuels across its 4.1bn fund. however, the university did not set a deadline. people & planet currently ranks oxford as having a partial commitment to divestment, having sold out of coal and tar sands but not other fossil fuels.

Tilly franklin, the cambridge funds chief investment officer, said it was incumbent on the university as a leader in scientific research to take action on climate change. we know we have to get to net zero to avoid catastrophic climate change, she said. were trying to align our investment strategy with the science.

She said the fund would measure emissions of every investment, from food to transport to energy and manufacturing.

Cambridge zero carbon, a group that campaigned for the endowment to dump oil and gas stocks, called the move a historic victory, despite coming five years too late.

Thefraught divestment campaignat cambridge, which has grown over the past decade, included students taking over buildings and disrupting the universitys annual rowing race with oxford on the river thames in london. cambridge initially held its ground: in 2018 it ruled out divesting despite reviewing the matter at the behest of students.

But the appointment of ms franklin this year following an overhaul of the funds investment team in 2018 paved the way for changes. further pressure was heaped on the fund in the form of a new university-commissioned report outlining the case for divestment across moral, social, political, reputational, and financial dimensions.

The divestment policy only relates to the universitys central endowment fund, which includes some money pooled by cambridges individual colleges. the colleges themselves, which control about a further 3.5bn, have their own individual policies on investment. some have committed to divesting from fossil fuel investments.

Despite cambridges move, campaigners urged the university to show its commitment by definitively terminating its links with oil and gas industry donors. [cambridge] can, and must, go further by severing all other ties they hold with the fossil fuel industry, said laura clayson, a campaign manager at people & planet.