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

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      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.”

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      Feb 5, 2014 at 1:38pm

      What percentage of the students body bothered to vote? How many students who aren't arts majors support divestment?

      Happy to see this

      Feb 5, 2014 at 2:15pm

      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.


      Feb 5, 2014 at 3:45pm

      So I guess the Straight has been taken over by NGOs. Maybe they should make an announcement...


      Feb 5, 2014 at 4:17pm

      Poor students are so misguided


      Feb 5, 2014 at 5:03pm

      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.

      Sarah B

      Feb 5, 2014 at 7:40pm

      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.

      Save Vancouver

      Feb 5, 2014 at 7:47pm

      LOL, so young, so naive.

      boris moris

      Feb 5, 2014 at 9:36pm

      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.

      Cameron Fenton

      Feb 6, 2014 at 8:29am

      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.