Students at UBC, SFU, and UVic vote for endowment funds to divest from fossil fuels

Last week, students at two of the Lower Mainland’s largest universities took steps to see those institutions divest themselves of financial interests in the fossil-fuel industry. Now, their counterparts at the University of Victoria have followed suit.

During the period January 27 to 31, University of British Columbia students voted for the Alma Mater Society to urge the administration to shift money out of companies that harm the environment via contributions to climate change.

According to Molly Henry, campaign manager for UBCC350, the group credited with getting the question to a referendum, the vote was 77 percent in favour of divestment.

“It is now the official policy of the AMS to lobby for fossil-fuel divestment at the university,” Henry told the Straight.

According to the UBC Investment Management Trust’s 2013 annual report, the university’s endowment fund is worth more than $1 billion, with 12 percent of public-equity holdings in the energy sector.

Henry said the next step is for the AMS to take the call for divestment to UBC’s board of governors and begin an awareness campaign informing alumni about where their investments are going.

The same week as the UBC vote, the Simon Fraser Student Society approved a recommendation that it write a letter to SFU’s board of directors voicing students’ support for fossil-fuel divestment.

In a telephone interview, SFSS president Humza Khan told the Straight that the decision is about aligning SFU’s investment practices with its stated commitment to sustainability and with its research record on climate change.

According to SFU’s latest financial report, the university’s endowment fund stood at $235 million in 2012.

This week, on February 3, the University of Victoria Students’ Society board of directors passed a motion calling on the UVic Foundation to freeze any new investments in businesses that focus on fossil fuels and to draft a three-year plan to divest from the industry.

“Investments in fossil fuels condone the environmental and human rights abuses associated with resource extraction based industries,” said UVSS chairperson Kelsey Mech quoted in a media release. “By continuing to invest in fossil fuels, we ensure that our futures are entrenched in the status quo rather than alternative and renewable options.”

Cameron Fenton, national director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, described the student decisions as “an acknowledgment of the role that universities play as thought leaders and early adopters”.

He said that with these and other successes at postsecondary institutions, the CYCC plans to take its divestment campaigns to cities and pension and retirement funds.

“Those are some of the biggest pools of money in Canada,” Fenton added. “They’re also some of the things that are at the highest risk of the carbon bubble and some of the economic risks of fossil-fuel investments.”

Comments (26) Add New Comment
G
What percentage of the students body bothered to vote? How many students who aren't arts majors support divestment?
22
45
Rating: -23
Happy to see this
I'm glad to see the students express their support for this. If the universities do agree to divest down the line, it will really send a message to the fossil fuel industry, and start some important conversations.
37
24
Rating: +13
realist
So I guess the Straight has been taken over by NGOs. Maybe they should make an announcement...
21
37
Rating: -16
observing
Poor students are so misguided
17
40
Rating: -23
Phap
The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition is very generously funded by Tides Canada, the Canadian wing of the Tides Foundation. It's interesting that the one-percenters giving money to Tides are the same billionaires that would benefit if institutions like UBC, SFU and UVic divested funds into their companies. I wonder if CYCC is using the good intentions of students to benefit its investors.
18
31
Rating: -13
Sarah B
Phap - what an apt screen name for such a ridiculous comment. Please cite some facts to go with your Glenn Beck-style stew of innuendo.Just say George Soros' name so everyone knows you're a conspiracy theorist.
32
18
Rating: +14
Save Vancouver
LOL, so young, so naive.
23
36
Rating: -13
Phap
@Sarah B - The Tides Canada website details the funds given to Canadian Youth Climate Initiative to further their cause: one grant for $4826 and another grant for a staggering $89 986 http://tidescanada.org/sb/pdfs/annual-report/Climate.pdf
14
18
Rating: -4
boris moris
What a great idea. I'd love to see public sector unions, like Ontario Teachers, divest all their toxic earth and health destroying investments in oil, gas, chemicals and junk food. The proceeds from those sales can go straight into eco friendly technologies.

Way to set a fantastic example and start a trend away from supporting the filthy, toxic, carcinogenic oil, gas and coal industries.
27
14
Rating: +13
Cameron Fenton
The CYCC has not been a project of, or received grants from Tides since 2012. We left in early 2013, before the launch of the Fossil Free Canada campaign, and stopped being a charity in order to have the political freedom to support the fossil fuel divestment movement and embody the bold spirit of the youth climate movement.
22
8
Rating: +14
Bruce Dean
"A university is what a college becomes when the faculty loses interest in students." (John Ciardi)
12
9
Rating: +3
patrick venton
divest from natural fossil fuels, that is un natural. That leaves us with sporadic at best atmospheric sometimes alternatives, or nuclear power, or an extra sweater. Oh, I forgot hydroelectric, these days that is being beaten up. Science needs to start looking at the big picture not dwelling only on their own niches.
8
15
Rating: -7
sky
Time to step down old folks - time and time again you proved you were are unable to understand the meaning of climate change and what it has in store for future generations to come. You will die soon and we'll be stuck with the issues of ocean acidification, rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns and so forth.

It's our future, and it's time for us to do something about it! WAY TO GO STUDENTS!
19
12
Rating: +7
Sarah B
Did you just say staggering? Lol. That's two full time staff members making less than market rates, just so you know. That fact is not at issue. What is at issue is your contention that billionaires, plural, are using TIDES to funnel money into their businesses. Citations, please.
14
8
Rating: +6
buddhabitch
way to go student bodies, this is a very powerful statement. the old guard will keep telling you that fossil fuels are just some necessary evil that you have to accept. don't let them get you down, hold strong and stand up for what you know. fossil fuels could run out tomorrow and you know we'd just find another way.
19
11
Rating: +8
G
Tides also has some questionable links to Vision Vancouver. The people behind tides are the folks who have made a killing through being enviro-capitalists. Mayor Robertson is a junior member of the group, a juice millionaire is very eco-friendly, and has pursued policies that benefit "green"companies associated with tides. Tides also serves as a convenient means to launder charitable donations made in the US into political campaigns here in Canada. Unlike the paranoia over Soros one can find some diligent research, some even published in the Straight at one time, that asks serious questions regarding the operations of Tides Canada. Their operations seem to coincide nicely with the business goals of their supporters, similar to how Vision's decisions on rezoning have more to do with the developer's political spending than on neighbourhood opinion.

Student activism is a joke to those of us who attended university and continued on into becoming actual grow ups. Most of them end up changing their tune once they enter the real world, spending money that they worked for and seeing just how coddled they had been. During the last Provincial election young people, particularly students, supported the NDP by a significant margin, but each age group one moves up that support shifts as reality becomes clear. Those young people who support the NDP are also the demographic that doesn't vote.

People tend to shift to the right at least fiscally when they start taking care of themselves and their own family. The slogans they spouted as student protesters, the "demands" they made and the causes they espoused all come under increasing scrutiny. Why are there "Marxists" in the zoo of academia but so few in the wild? If they hadn't considered that before university they will once their salary reaches some point where the taxes are bigger than your early pay cheques total.

More and more people see student activism for what it is: a phase. Their malleable minds have been told they are being "wise" supporting cause X and they believe the hype. Many of the students demanding divestment will have pension funds invested in things they used to oppose, and when they look at their RRSPs if fossil fuels are making money that's where they will invest. Divest but double tuition: anyone who intellectually merits higher education will still manage and we can use the rest to pull wagons.
8
21
Rating: -13
Bean Burrito
Obviously these students don't realize that fossil fuels are used in the production of beer and beer bottles.
14
19
Rating: -5
Howard
G, you must realize that when universities divest, they will still have dozens of other profitable industries to invest those funds in, right? Fossil fuels aren't the only profitable industry, and the ethical implications make divesting worthwhile.

If we want to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, we've got to start somewhere. Shifting investment money away from those companies towards other industries would be a good start, and would help put clean energy companies on more equal footing. Just imagine if there was as much money being invested in R&D for clean energy companies, as there is in the fossil fuel industry.
23
11
Rating: +12
Howard
Also, check out this quote from the President of the World Bank as he expresses his support for the divestment movement:

"This is the year to take action on climate change. There are no more excuses. If we fail, our children and grandchildren will ask us why we didn't act when it was still possible to do so.

We need leaders who are not thinking about short-term returns or election cycles. We need leaders who are thinking foremost about taking care of the most vulnerable in this generation and the generations ahead.

The good news is that there is action we all can take to turn economies around so they're investing in what is clean and healthy and there are innovations that will bring future growth, jobs, and competitiveness.

Through policy reforms, we can divest and tax that which we don't want, the carbon that threatens development gains over the last 20 years.

...

We called for a phase-out of harmful fossil fuel subsidies. Act now. The $1.9 trillion in subsidies can be redirected to support investment in clean growth. This challenges the notion that responding to climate change is not affordable.

Financial regulators need to lead, as well. Sooner rather than later, they must address the systemic risk associated with carbon-intensive activities in their economies, made clear, of course, by price signals. Start now by enforcing disclosure of climate risk and requiring companies and financial institutions to access their exposure to climate-related impacts.

The so-called "long-term investors" must recognize their fiduciary responsibility to future pension holders who will be affected by decisions made today. Corporate leaders should not wait to act until market signals are right and national investment policies are in place.

Be the first mover. Use smart due diligence. Rethink what fiduciary responsibility means in this changing world. It's simple self-interest. Every company, investor, and bank that screens new and existing investments for climate risk is simply being pragmatic."

http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/speech/2014/01/23/world-bank-group-pres...
20
9
Rating: +11
RUK
Companies are sometimes managed quarter to quarter and are forced, or think they are forced, into questionably ethical business practices. I don't blame executives in the oil business (or the WMD business, for that matter) for diligently working to improve their bottom lines and stay ahead of the competition. It's what they should do.

As investors, though, we have discretion. We might like a particular product and believe in it personally, and invest; or we might just want a comfortable return and let the fund manager deal with it.

Ethical funds are not short sighted or naive or crazy in any way, shape or form. First, I think most people are pretty decent and would not normally choose to do the wrong thing. Second, a business that is dirty environmentally is going to attract a great deal of legal and regulatory heat; one lawsuit turns the wrong way and it may be adios for the company. Third, clean energy is where we are going anyway. Does any one of you think for a second that we're going to be strip mining coal in a hundred years, or even fifty?

That said, the grey area is that existing petro companies are well set up to be solar or fusion or microwave receiving companies too. There's no reason why Saudi Arabia won't be a solar energy superpower after the oil goes away. Plenty of sunlight and silicon there. So, depending on how they are transitioning to the future, you actually might want to keep your funds with BP or whomever.

9
6
Rating: +3

Pages

Add new comment
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.