Pending Board approval, UBC to explore full divestment from fossil fuels

After years of legal and financial arguments that sustainable investment runs contrary to student interests, the UBC Board of Governors (BoG) Finance Committee endorsed an investigation of full divestment from fossil fuels.

At its meeting on Tuesday afternoon, Committee Chair Nancy McKenzie brought forward a motion recommending the Board conduct financial and legal reports into the possibility of fully divesting its $1.71-billion Main Endowment Pool (MEP) and $1.82-billion Staff Pension Plan.

The motion carried with unanimous support.

“... the Board asks the Administration to conduct the necessary legal and financial analysis to explore full divestiture from fossil fuels of all endowment and other funds under the Board’s control, and bring that analysis back to the Board in an expedient manner,” wrote BoG Chair Michael Korenberg to The Ubyssey.

The decision follows the Endowment Responsible Investment Policy Committee’s decision on November 22 to recommend the transfer of $381 million from the Great Trek Endowment into the low-carbon, fossil fuel-free Sustainable Future Pool (SFP), which currently holds $30 million.

The transfer is conditioned on the Board receiving an asset-liability financial study and legal opinion that assures the move won’t cost UBC money and is legally permissible. UBC VP Finance and Operations Peter Smailes predicted the Board should be ready to officially approve the transfer in its cycle of meetings in April 2020.

Both motions require approval from the full Board in its joint meeting on December 5.

The Great Trek only makes up 22 per cent of the MEP, but the Board has been reluctant to divest the remaining 78 percent — entirely comprising charitable gifts — because it worried doing so would violate agreements with donors.

But this motion indicates that UBC has grown more hopeful about its legal stance. BoG Vancouver student representative Jeanie Malone called it “an amazing shift in viewpoint.”

AMS President Chris Hakim also expressed his support in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.

“This monumental step forward is a great show of the Board of Governors listening to the UBC Community on the importance of taking clear and decisive action on climate change,” he said.

Hakim added that he hopes the administration engages with student groups such as the AMS and UBCC350, a political climate action group, throughout its analysis.

UBCC350 member and third-year human geography student Rachel Cheung said the group is encouraged by the progress but will keep pushing until full divestment is achieved.

“We want to acknowledge that this shift in position would not have been possible without years of pressure from UBC students and faculty,” said Cheang in a written statement. “We will continue to hold the line until UBC votes to fully divest their endowment from the fossil fuel industry.”

Korenberg, Malone and BoG Vancouver student representative Max Holmes all thanked students, faculty, staff and especially UBCC350 for their work on the issue.

“They deserve a huge shoutout, they’ve been talking about this forever,” said Holmes.

But before they celebrate, Cheang said UBCC350 wants to see the Board live up to its word.

“We are in a climate crisis and if UBC claims to be a leader in sustainability, then it is time we act like one. We will no longer accept any more empty promises and inaction from the University.”

UBCC350 member Rachel Cheang is an illustrations contributor to The Ubyssey.