University of British Columbia to Divest C$380 Million from Fossil Fuels

President declares climate emergency, but activists say it isn’t enough.

The University of British Columbia’s board of governors has voted to divest C$380 million ($288.5 million) of fossil fuels from its C$1.71 billion endowment and transfer the money to a sustainable fund.

“UBC acknowledges the urgency of the climate crisis and we must directly face the coming challenges,” University of British Columbia President Santa Ono said in a statement.  “At this pivotal moment, the decisions and actions we take today will reverberate beyond our own borders and lifetimes.”

In a “declaration on the climate emergency,” Ono will establish a Climate Emergency Advisory Committee that is “both intergenerational and representative of the diversity of UBC’s community.” The committee’s purpose will be to oversee the community consultation process to ensure that it “incorporates the latest research in science of climate change and adaptation, and the engineering of practical solutions; embeds climate justice; and is inclusive of all members of the community.”

Ono said the committee will consolidate input from both in-person and online consultations into a public report that defines the climate emergency and outlines recommended actions.  That should be finished by late spring of 2020. The report will be submitted to the new Sustainability Committee of the university’s board of governors for consideration.

The board of governors has also agreed to financial and legal reviews of transferring the C$380 million to the university’s sustainable future pool, a fossil-free and low carbon fund established in 2017. The reviews are expected to be completed and presented to board of governors at their April 16, 2020 meeting.

“UBC’s overall investment in the extractive fossil fuel industry is just over 2% (or C$43 million) of the endowment,” university Treasurer Yale Loh said in a statement. “However, as we look at further reducing this investment, we need to consider a variety of important factors.”

Loh said factors include the most effective ways UBC can influence companies to pursue more sustainable approaches, mitigating potential penalties for removing investments from pooled funds that contain fossil fuel securities.  Another factor is identifying appropriate alternative funds that are in keeping with the university’s core fiduciary responsibilities.

“UBC is moving forward with a wide-ranging framework to analyze the endowment from a broader sustainability lens with the goal of developing a comprehensive approach to the climate change risk together with other Environmental, Social or Governance issues,” Loh said.

Despite the declaration of a climate emergency, the move isn’t considered enough by university political climate action group UBCC350, which is comprised of students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

“While UBC has made some great strides on climate change, these efforts are deeply undermined because the administration insists on continuing to invest in the full scale of the fossil fuel industry,” the group said in a release. “While we have reached a huge victory in driving UBC to create a C$10 million fossil free fund, we know that divesting less than 1% of UBC’s endowment does not constitute meaningful action on climate change. We are continuing to advocate for the full divestment that UBC students and faculty voted for.”


Relates Stories:

Harvard Activists Call for Fossil Fuel Divestment

CalPERS CIO: No Divestment of Fossil Fuel Companies

University of California Endowment, Pension to Divest All Fossil Fuels



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