UBC board of governors committee opts for partial and not full divestment from fossil fuel companies

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      B.C.'s largest university is not going down the same road as the University of California and Concordia University when it comes to dumping shares in companies that are contributing to the warming of the planet.

      On Friday (November 22), the University of British Columbia board of governors endowment responsible investment policy committee opted to divest UBC's land revenue from fossil-fuel companies, according to the climate group UBCc350.

      But the policy committee did not vote for divestment from fossil fuels for UBC's entire investment portfolio.

      This came despite calls from the climate group UBCc350 and a letter signed by 1,600 UBC community members.

      "UBC is complicit in an industry that is fueling climate crisis, targeting Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, and putting all of our futures at stake," declared one of the group's organizers, Mukta Chachra. "If our university is serious about its commitment to climate action, it needs to start by cutting its ties with extractive industry.”

      Prior to the meeting, UBC students sang songs and created two walkways for the board members to enter. One was called "full divestment now" and other was labelled "climate criminal".

      Members of a UBC board committee had to choose which path to enter a meeting on Friday.

      After the vote, they held a nonviolent protest to show their displeasure.

      A report by senior UBC executives to the committee stated that pure divestment would be "contrary to responsibility of fiduciary duty".

      This report also pointed out that the university's sustainable future pool of $31 million excludes fossil-fuel investments and only targets those with a low carbon footprint.

      UBC's total endowment is nearly $1.8 billion, of which nearly $1.4 billion is in the main endowment pool.

      Another $381 million is in the Trek land endowment, which is generated through UBC Properties Trust.

      Another UBCc350 organizer, Emily Mittertreiner, gave the university a "failing grade" for not fully divesting.

      The UBC executives' report noted that while the University of California, Université Laval, and Concordia have pledged full divestment, this has not been approved by the boards of the University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, McGill University, Simon Fraser University, McMaster University, Queens University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Western Ontario, Dalhousie University, the University of Calgary, the University of Manitoba, and the University of Alberta.

      Ivy League universities Harvard and Yale have also not pledged full divestment, which resulted in a protest at today's football game.

      Meanwhile, Cambridge, Oxford, and Stanford have divested from coal and tarsands projects.

      UBCc350's written presentation includes quotes from various sources pointing out how poorly fossil-fuel stocks have performed, including a 2018 study by Arjan Trinks, Bert Scholtens, Machiel Mulder, and Lammertjan Dam, published in Ecological Economics.

      "We compare financial performance of investment portfolios with and without fossil fuel company stocks over the period 1927–2016," they wrote in the abstract. "Contrary to theoretical expectations, we find that fossil fuel divestment does not seem to impair portfolio performance. These findings can be explained by the fact that, so far, fossil fuel company stocks do not outperform other stocks on a risk-adjusted basis and provide relatively limited diversification benefits."

      Another paper cited was written by Chelsie Hunt and Olaf Weber from the University of Waterloo. It pointed out that even in markets with a high fossil-fuel ratio of investment, such as Canada, "divestment can be conducted successfully."

      "The result is in contrast to the argument that in relatively small markets with strong industry concentration, divestment results in financial losses compared to the benchmark because of the lack of options to diversify," they added.

      In addition, Hunt and Weber mentioned other published papers in making their point that "fossil fuel divestment is in line with fiduciary duty."

      UBCc350 also addressed the legal arguments around fiduciary duty, citing current and former Canada Research Chairs Stepan Wood and Benjamin Richardson, who've "outlined multiple grounds by which full divestment can be legally justified".

      "Dozens of universities around the world, including many in jurisdictions whose legal rules are basically the same as ours, have joined the fossil fuel divestment movement," Wood has declared, according to the UBCc350 submission. "It beggars belief that all of them are acting on bad legal advice."