Youth climate group plans series of disruptions to get UBC to fully divest by this year

A youth-led climate group is organizing a series of demonstrations at UBC to push the university to fully divest from fossil fuels by the end of the year.

Known as “UBC Divest 2022,” these demonstrations are the first actions of Youth Climate Resistance — which is a part of the nonviolent Save Old Growth campaign — since the group formed a few weeks ago.

UBC committed to divest its endowment by 2030 as part of its Climate Emergency Response, but Youth Climate Resistance is demanding the university to take action sooner. If UBC publicly promises to fully divest within this year, Youth Climate Resistance will immediately stop the disruptions on campus.

“UBC’s current response to climate change, despite declaring the climate emergency … is not properly listening to climate science,” said Lukas Troni, chief coordinator of Youth Climate Resistance and second-year economics and geography student at UBC. “It's kind of ridiculous to think of a huge university like UBC having so much knowledge, but not acting upon it.”

Troni described the disruptions as civil disobedience, consisting of nonviolent acts such as obstructing public spaces and shaming public institutions.

The first, and only, disruption on campus so far occurred on May 16, the first day of classes for summer session term one. Troni and two other protestors put up protest signs outside the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre and painted the library stairs blue and green. Troni also superglued his hands to the library doors.

Troni emphasized that although many students are currently away from campus for the summer, there is still a significant number of people on campus and the disruptions could still be effective.

“This is happening now because the movement didn’t exist earlier,” said Troni. “We need the university to act now.”

He said that the feedback received from others about the disruptions has been broadly positive, and someone even brought him coffee during the demonstration on May 16.

“We expect the feedback to continue being positive if our disruptions continue to be respectful and do not hinder development of students on campus,” said Troni.

Dawn Jia, president of the UBC Investment Management Trust (IMANT), said in a written statement that UBC is already in the process of implementing full divestment of its investments from fossil fuels.

“Since the beginning of 2020, UBC has grown its investments in fossil-fuel-free or low carbon investments to over $375 million — representing approximately 40% of our public equity holdings — and currently only 2.3% of the endowment is estimated to be exposed to fossil fuel investments,” she wrote, adding that IMANT doesn't invest in individual stocks, but uses fund managers instead.

Jia added that while the divestment of fossil fuel extracting companies is important in addressing climate change, it is not the only solution. She said UBC has also committed to reducing its carbon emissions footprint by 45 per cent by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement targets needed to limit global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees by 2050.

“These efforts are a clear indication of the urgency with which the university is responding to the financial and operational imperatives around climate change,” wrote Jia.