UBC board nixes fossil fuel divestment

By Jonny Wakefield

February 18, 2016

The University of B.C.’s board of governors has decided not to sell off oil, gas and coal stocks from its portfolio, despite calls from faculty and students to do so.

The board on Monday opted not to divest its fossil fuel holdings, which make up less than ten per cent of UBC’s $1.4-billion endowment, the Canadian Press reports. According to divestment campaigners, the institution has at least 21 investments in the world’s 200 largest coal, oil and gas companies.

Students and faculty who organized the UBC divestment campaign said the result was disappointing, despite the university’s pledge to create a $10-million “sustainable future fund” to finance low-carbon ventures.

Alex Hemingway, a spokesperson for the student divestment campaign, told the Globe and Mail his organization would consider sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience following Monday’s result. In an open letter to the board published last week, UBC350 members called the evaluation process “inadequate and flawed.”

“Eighty per cent of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground if we are to have a chance of keeping warming to below two degrees,” Hemingway, a PhD candidate, said in a news release after the decision. “By refusing to stop investing in the companies that own these reserves, UBC is sending the message that they’re just not concerned about climate change.”

UBC students and faculty came out in support of divestment in two separate referendums, held in 2014 and 2015.

Elected student members of the board, who make up a minority,  did not support the motion against divestment. The majority of board members, meanwhile, are appointed by the provincial government.  

A spokesperson for UBC told the Globe and Mail that the impact of selling the stocks on the university’s bottom line was an “interesting question,” given massive drops in oil, gas and coal prices in the past year.

And some have questioned whether divestment is really the best tool to influence energy policy. In a blog post published a year ago on the divestment controversy at UBC, Sauder School of Business Prof. Werner Antweiler called divestment “a cathartic purging of our links to the purveyors of carbon,” as reported by The Manitoban. However, he argued the energy put into divestment campaigns would be better spent pushing for more effective carbon taxes.

While divestment campaigns have been successful in some, mainly smaller American universities, the movement has yet to have the same success in Canada. According to the Globe and Mail, the University of Calgary, McGill and Dalhousie have also opted to hold onto fossil fuel-related investments.



Photo Credit: Yutaka Seki