UVic won’t add investments in high-carbon firms, but students demand complete divestment

Angered by the University of Victoria’s decision to not divest itself of shares in all fossil-fuel companies, students and faculty are considering public campaigns to convince donors to avoid the university.

UVic’s board of governors voted Tuesday to approve a new investment policy for its $225-million short-term investment fund. The new policy will see the fund move away from high-carbon-emitting companies, including fossil-fuel companies, and add companies specializing in green sectors, such as renewable energy or clean technologies.

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The vote was quickly followed by a campus demonstration of about 100 people angry the university won’t sell all its stock in fossil-fuel companies. Production and burning of fossil fuels is a leading contributor to greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming.

Juliet Watts, UVic Students’ Association director of campaigns and community relations, said publicity is being planned that might target university alumni, asking them to pledge they will not donate to the university.

Watts said it’s not meant to attack UVic, but as a denunciation of what they see as the university administration’s failure to address climate change.

“We love our professors, we love our friends and we love our community and we love our campus,” said Watts. “What we don’t love is decisions that are not representative of those things.”

But UVic administrators defend the policy as a more broad-based approach to addressing climate change than just taking aim at fossil-fuel companies.

The new policy, the result of months of research and consultation, will see emissions of all companies whose shares are held within the portfolio reduced by 45 per cent by 2030. That target aligns with aims of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Paris Climate Agreement to hold the global temperature increase to 1.5 C.

UVic president Jamie Cassels said he stands by the approach of the new policy.

“It places climate considerations, climate impacts, climate risks and greenhouse-gas emissions right at the centre of the way in which we make decisions on how we will invest,” said Cassels.

“The goal is to ultimately divest of high-carbon-emitting enterprises across all sectors and to invest in climate-friendly enterprises, innovations and low-carbon enterprises.”

Cassels said he understands the passion of students and faculty who want to move fast and hard to mitigate climate change. “This is the issue of our time, the critical issue the globe now faces.”

But he also said universities have a responsibility to meet the crisis across all aspects of their institutions: research, education, campus and building operations, and institutional investments.

“We all accept that we need to respond to the climate crisis,” said Cassels. “But we want to take a large, comprehensive approach.

“This [policy] is just one aspect of a much larger and more ambitious project. We want to look at what we do in every domain across the university.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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