UBC faculty urge school to divest of fossil fuels

School's investments in oil, gas and coal firms total 10% of its $1.3-billion endowment fund.

February 11, 2015   by The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER — Faculty members at the University of British Columbia have thrown their support behind a campaign for a fossil-fuel-free investment portfolio.

The university’s professors, librarians and program directors voted 62% in favour of urging the school’s board of governors to sell off its holdings related to fossil fuels within the next five years.

The motion also calls on the governors to stop any new fossil fuel-related investments.

“Last year UBC students voted overwhelmingly. This year UBC faculty has,” said George Hoberg, a forestry professor and outspoken advocate of divestment.

“It’s time for UBC to take some action on divestment.”

Investments tied to oil, gas and coal companies make up about 10% of the university’s $1.3-billion endowment fund.

“UBC is a place of academic dialogue and debate and we welcome our faculty members’ interest in our investment policies,” said university spokeswoman Susan Danard in a written statement, adding that any decision on what to do with the endowment fund rests with the board of governors.

While the results of the faculty referendum are not binding on university governors, Hoberg said the vote means the board must at least consider the proposal.

He said he was “ecstatic” that his colleagues voted to join with students, who passed a similar resolution supporting divestment last year.

“It’s especially important to us because it’s so important to our students,” said Hoberg.

“We spend a lot of time interacting with today’s youth and we know how strongly they feel the need for a cleaner future.”

He described the situation as precedent setting, and said he hopes it helps fuel the momentum towards divestment on other campuses.

Following the student referendum, the university produced a responsible investment policy setting out five conditions that must be met before it would consider divestment of any industry. That includes providing evidence that such a measure would not harm the school’s financial interests.

Faculty members plan to present their proposal at the next board of governors meeting, scheduled for this Thursday.

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

If the campaign is successful, UBC would become the first Canadian school to fully divest its fossil fuel investments.

Concordia University became the first in Canada to adopt a partial divestment policy in December, which only applies to a $5-million fund representing a fraction of the schools $130-million endowment.

The board of governors at Halifax’s Dalhousie University rejected a divestment proposal last November. McGill University’s board rejected a fossil-fuel divestment proposal in 2013.

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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