Faculty Members Advocate for Divestment from Fossil Fuels

This is a guest post submitted by a member. For FAUW’s position on this issue, please see our recent blog post on the Responsible Investing Working Group.

—David DeVidi, Philosophy

The global movement to divest from fossil fuels has been growing on our campus since 2015, initially driven by undergraduate and graduate students. Faculty members are now organizing to support students in their call to the administration to withdraw our endowment and pension investments from fossil fuels and re-invest in a low carbon future. This post outlines the reasons for divestment and the progress toward it—globally and on our campus—and welcomes you to get involved.

Why divest?

Available data indicate that our university has invested at least $68 million in fossil fuels, in companies like BP, Total, Exxon/Imperial Oil, and Royal Dutch Shell that have been leading contributors to the climate crisis. There are pressing environmental and ethical reasons to withdraw our support from these companies. There are also reputational costs to consider: it is difficult to present Waterloo as an innovative, socially responsible university concerned with advancing environmental sustainability if our investments say otherwise.

The financial case for divestment is also very strong. A PhD student in our School of Environment, Enterprise and Development (SEED) program estimated that our university lost approximately $20 million over the 2011-15 period by investing in fossil fuels as opposed to having a low-carbon portfolio. These significant losses mirror the ongoing devaluation of fossil fuels as the global community decarbonizes to align with the 2015 United Nations’ Paris Agreement.

Divestment’s global rise

More than 800 institutions around the world—including educational institutions, faith organizations, governments such as New York City, pension funds ,and non-governmental organizations—have already committed to divest $6 trillion worth of assets from oil, coal, and gas. Well over 100 universities have joined this effort, including major institutions like Cambridge, Oxford, London School of Economics, Stanford, and Yale. Laval University has been a campus divestment frontrunner in Canada.

Divestment at UWaterloo

Faculty of Environment students voted unanimously at their Annual General Meeting in November 2015 to divest their Endowment Fund from fossil fuels. Growing student interest in this issue incited faculty members to become involved. In the spring of 2016, 68 University of Waterloo faculty signed a letter to President Hamdullahpur and members of the University Board of Governors urging members to 1) assess the financial risks posed by climate change to the University of Waterloo’s endowment and pension plans, 2) commit to no new investment in fossil fuels, and 3) develop a strategy to completely divest the University from holdings in the fossil fuel industry.

In 2017, following the urging of students and a growing number of faculty members—alongside a new Provincial directive that all pension plans must now include information about how environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors are incorporated into investment policies—the Board formed the Responsible Investing Working Group (RIWG) to examine whether Waterloo pensions, trusts, and endowments are not only fiscally responsible but also environmentally and socially responsible and preserve good governance. The RIWG will soon provide its recommendations to the Board of Governors, which might make a decision on this issue at the June 2018 meeting.

Join in

If you would like to join other faculty members to support the UW divestment campaign, please email David DeVidi at david.devidi@uwaterloo.ca. And if you have undergraduate or graduate students who are interested, please encourage them to contact Lesley Johnston at lesley.johnston@uwaterloo.ca.

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