For the past four years, UBCC350 has negotiated with and worked to persuade the Board of Governors to begin the process of divesting UBC’s holdings from fossil fuels. This work consisted first of obtaining a majority of the student and faculty vote supporting divestment, and culminated in the Board’s 2016 decision to release the Sustainable Future Fund (SFF), which originally included numerous fossil fuel companies. In response to UBCC350's divestment campaign, on Feb 14th 2017, the Board of Governors approved a revised version of the Sustainable Future fund that was originally proposed exactly one year ago. The SFF is now a completely fossil-free fund!

Below are some of the companies that the SFF will be invested in:

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When the fund was first announced a year ago, it was projected to include the following companies, many of which are reputable for their oil & gas business.

How was this possible? UBC stated that they intended to use a common method in the financial industry to calculate carbon “footprints”. 1 This method only considers "upstream" emissions from extraction or production and doesn't include emissions from the "downstream" burning of coal, oil, or gas in the footprint of a fossil fuel company.

For example, carbon emissions from coal power still count toward the carbon footprint of a solar panel manufacturer. The bizarre result is that investments in solar panel manufacturing are at times rated as having higher carbon footprints than coal mining! 2

This dubious way of defining carbon footprints nearly let UBC continue to invest in the full range of the fossil fuel industry while claiming these investments as "low carbon." 3 Fortunately, the Board has deliberated further and owing to the relentless push by UBCC350, the Sustainable Future Fund will now be a positive step towards full divestment and a better future for UBC students as we are finally committed to a truly fossil-free fund. We need to let the Board know that their commitment to climate action matters to the UBC community.

With this approval, UBC will have created the second largest university fossil-free fund in Canada, following Université Laval’s commitment to full divestment.

The Board has stated that the fund has two objectives:

  1. Meet financial returns and contain a financially sound portfolio.
  2. Be fossil free.

This is very encouraging news - for us and for the global divestment campaign. This fund will not only accelerate fossil free investing in Canada, but the climate leadership and the real effort made to uphold the values of sustainability as exhibited by the UBC Board of Governors will hopefully propel the divestment campaign in Canada further. This victory also shows that hard working and organized students have power in affecting change at an institutional level. UBC’s newfound angle of climate leadership would not have arisen without the four years of tireless leadership on behalf of concerned students and faculty that culminated in the creation of the SFF.

Nevertheless, as we celebrate this win, we must also recognize that this fund makes up less than 1% of the endowment fund.

Our initial proposal called for full divestment of the endowment fund and we will continue to stand by the call from faculty and students to achieve that commitment.

Though this is a victory, we should remember that there is still work to do regarding divestment, specifically the continued expansion of the new fund toward full divestment of the endowment.

Want to join us in calling on UBC to amplify this commitment by enlarging the SFF? Join our team this semester to get involved!


Footnotes. [1] See MSCI Low Carbon Indexes. In essence, only the GHG emissions emitted directly by the company or indirectly for the electricity consumed count towards the company's "footprint." Downstream emissions, such as from burning coal for power, generally don't count. This method isn't technically incorrect and it has its uses if considered carefully. However, it can cause perverse (and plain wrong) investment incentives such as finding that switching investments from solar panel manufacturing to coal mining will lower carbon emissions. We think UBC should choose a more reasonable method of defining "low carbon" for its endowment investments.
[2] Life Cycle Assessment of Coal-fired Power Production, Spath et al, NREL (1999). Carbon emissions from the Carbon Disclosure Project, market capitalization from Bloomberg, and results corrected for Scope 1 & 2 emissions to be consistent with the MSCI methodology.
[3] UBC has not yet revealed exactly what investments the "Sustainable Future Fund" will consist of. Instead they have indicated that it will follow the MSCI low-carbon index. The above companies are all constituents of "low-carbon" ETFs (here and here) tracking this index and therefore are very likely to be what UBC invests the Sustainable Future Fund in.