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Posted by Zoe Alexander
Zoe covers geology, marine and climate science.
Contact: earth@sciglow.com

UBC declares climate emergency and moves forward on two key divestment initiatives

Work underway now adds to the university’s Climate Action Plan developed in 2010.

1 month ago by University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia has joined communities and organizations around the world in declaring a climate emergency.

“UBC acknowledges the urgency of the climate crisis and we must directly face the coming challenges. At this pivotal moment, the decisions and actions we take will reverberate beyond our own borders and lifetimes,” said UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono. “We appreciate the ongoing commitment of our community to mitigating climate change, especially our students, who have shown their remarkable and commendable leadership to address the most pressing issue of our time.”

The statement by Ono commits the university to establishing a climate emergency community engagement process with an aim to allow the community to come together “to consider the full scope of our impact and align UBC’s emissions reductions plans with 1.5oC; to embrace the need for a managed decline of fossil fuel use and a rapid and just transition to a sustainable economy that also aligns with UNDRIP; to infuse climate justice throughout our activities, priorities, and decision-making frameworks; and to support community coping and adaptation in the face of climate crisis.”

The consultation process will launch in the new year to inform the university’s collective response to the climate emergency.

In keeping with the declaration the university is moving forward on two key divestment initiatives to build on its internationally renowned sustainability and climate change action record by taking significant steps toward greater divestment of its investments from the fossil fuel industry.

Earlier the UBC Board of Governors formally agreed to:

  • Financial and legal reviews that will inform how the university can move forward with full divestment of its main endowment pool ($1.71B) from fossil fuels.
  • Financial and legal reviews of transferring $380 million of endowed University funds from the main endowment pool to the university’s sustainable future pool, a fossil-free and low carbon fund established in 2017 to test, validate, and research investment strategies that specifically aim to materially lower carbon emissions, and aim to exclude fossil fuels.

The legal and financial reviews of the $380 million transfer are expected to be complete and presented to Board of Governors at their April 16, 2020 meeting.

The Board has requested the reviews of full divestment be presented in as expeditious a manner as possible.

“UBC’s overall investment in the extractive fossil fuel industry is just over 2 per cent (or $43 million) of the endowment. However, as we look at further reducing this investment, we need to consider a variety of important factors,” explained UBC Treasurer Yale Loh. “These factors include the most effective ways that UBC can influence companies to pursue more sustainable approaches, mitigating potential penalties for removing investments from pooled funds that contain such extractive fossil fuel industry securities, and identifying appropriate alternative funds that are in keeping with the university’s core fiduciary responsibilities to donors, students, faculty, staff, and alumni. UBC is moving forward with a wide-ranging framework to analyze the endowment from a broader sustainability lens with the goal of developing a comprehensive approach to the climate change risk together with other Environmental, Social or Governance issues.”

Work underway now adds to the university’s Climate Action Plan developed in 2010. That plan set some of North America’s most aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets in 2010 and has, at the same time as a significant increase in student population and building growth, achieved a 34 per cent reduction since 2007. UBC is on-track to reduce GHG emissions by 67 per cent as of 2021, and targeting 100 per cent by 2050.

In 2013, the university adopted its Responsible Investment Policy to direct UBC to consider environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors to make more informed investment decisions for the UBC Endowment. This initiative has been internationally recognized for its commitment to sustainability.

In 2017, UBC established the Sustainable Future Pool (“SFP”) to test, validate, and research investment strategies that specifically aim to materially lower carbon emissions, and aim to exclude fossil fuels.

To maintain progress, the university also established the Endowment Responsible Investment Policy Working Group of the Board of Governors. This group of faculty, staff, student, and appointed board members, as well as alumni and investment professionals, continue to evaluate investment alternatives to improve ESG objectives for the endowment within UBC’s fiduciary mandate.

This year UBC was ranked No. 1 in the 2019 Times Higher Education University Impact Rating globally for taking urgent action to combat climate change.