UBC board to make final decision on whether to dump fossil fuel investments

VANCOUVER – The University of British Columbia has the chance to become a national leader in the fight against climate change by rejecting its own finance committee’s recommendation to not sell the school’s investments in the fossil fuel industry, says a spokesman for a campus-based environmental advocacy organization.

Divest UBC spokesman Alex Hemingway is calling on the university to launch a new, more open and transparent process for considering divestment that involves not only the administration but also students, faculty and alumni.

The university’s board of governors is set to make the final decision Monday on whether to sell off the school’s fossil fuel holdings as part of the university’s $1.4-billion endowment fund.

“UBC actually has an incredible opportunity here to set itself on a path of being a real leader in sustainability and good governance,” Hemingway said.

“We need a more serious and evidence-based process that not only has different relevant experts sitting on the committee itself but also is open to consultations and submissions from stakeholders around the university.”

Investments tied to oil, gas and coal companies make up about 10 per cent of the university’s endowment.

In 2014, UBC students voted 77 per cent in support of divestment. Faculty voted similarly the following January, 62 per cent in favour of selling off the school’s fossil fuel holdings within five years.

In the wake of the student vote, UBC created a responsible investment policy that set out five conditions to meet before it would consider divestment from any industry. That includes providing evidence that the school’s financial interests would not be harmed.

Concordia University in Montreal became the first Canadian university to adopt a partial divestment policy in December 2014, though that measure only applies to a $5-million fund — a fraction of the school’s $130-million endowment.

The University of Calgary, McGill University in Montreal and Dalhousie University in Halifax have all decided against divestment.

“It’s true that in Canada we haven’t seen a major university emerge as a real leader on divestment,” Hemingway said.

“UBC actually has an incredible opportunity here to set itself on a path of being a real leader in sustainability and good governance.”

Student groups have started fossil fuel divestment campaigns at more than two dozen Canadian schools and more than 200 in the United States.

Late last year an advisory committee at the University of Toronto recommended the school divest from fossil fuel companies that “blatantly disregard” efforts to combat climate change. University president Meric Gertler is expected to make a final decision before April.

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