Climate groups call on BC universities to reinvest in local communities

Following successful divestment campaigns, climate student groups are now calling on BC universities to reinvest in their communities.

In a campaign launched near the end of 2021, Climate Justice UBC (CJUBC), SFU350 and DivestUVic joined forces to push for universities to go beyond simply divesting. They’re calling for BC universities to reinvest 10 per cent of their endowments and working capital funds into community investments, among other requests. That 10 per cent would add up to over $500 million.

UBC, the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University have all committed to divestment, but are all at varying stages of the process.

CJUBC, formerly UBCC350, spent six years fighting for UBC to divest its main endowment from fossil fuels. In 2019, UBC committed to divestment, a huge win for climate activists on campus and beyond.

CJUBC told The Ubyssey that this reinvestment campaign the “next step,” following divestment.

The current campaign has five main demands: the integration of social and environmental impact across asset classes and capital pools; the creation of a new community investment asset class with a target of 10 per cent of university investment assets; the engagement of First Nations on the investment of funds; the move of cash and guaranteed investment contracts to fossil-free financial institutions; and collaboration with other universities and organizations to “amplify the impact of community investing.”

Collaboration is a key component of the campaign, Rachel Cheang of CJUBC said.

“In the past few years with more and more Canadian universities divesting, we’ve really seen the most significant impact of coalitions and universities coming together to put together concrete asks and pressuring universities together,” Cheang said.

UBC responded to a media request on these new demands by sending a statement on the university’s commitment to divestment and climate action.

Yale Loh, UBC treasurer, wrote that sustainability and climate action are “deeply embedded” in UBC’s operations. He noted that the university has made significant progress on divestment but acknowledged this was only a first step for the university.

“At this time, investment products for institutional investors that address climate and social justice issues are still relatively limited and the available historical performance data is thin—which UBC IMANT [Investment Management Trust] relies on to evaluate and select funds,” Loh wrote. “As such, UBC IMANT is working on UBC’s behalf to influence and advance the investment industry through education, and push industry leaders to design investment products that better address these critical issues.

Now that the demands have been “soft-launched” on the CJUBC website, the groups are now beginning an extensive community consultation process.

“A big part of the campaign itself is being very explicit about talking to [different UBC communities] and doing that in the right way and having their perspectives reflected in what we’re putting forth,” Sarah Salloum of CJUBC said.

Britt Runeckles, another member of CJUBC, added that they will be taking part in trainings on how to do effective consultation. CJUBC hopes to release a consultation report by April, and launch the campaign tentatively next fall. But speed isn’t top of mind for CJUBC.

“Our priority is on making sure that all of this is done in the right way, rather than more quickly,” Salloum said.

Salloum and Cheang encouraged students to pay attention to this campaign, especially if they cared about the university divesting. They also spoke of the precedent this could set if UBC follows through.

“$500 million is a lot of money that could potentially be going to really important and local and sustainable initiatives and could still generate a return for the university,” Salloum said.

— With files from Vik Sangar

Runeckles is a member of the Ubyssey Publications Society Board of Directors. The board has no say over The Ubyssey’s editorial operations.