We are fighting for fossil freedom

In response to the University of Waterloo’s decision to accept a $2-million donation supporting the Bachelor of Sustainability and Financial Management from RBC, one of the biggest fossil fuel financiers in the world, FFUW sent the following letter to the President and Board of Directors.

University of Waterloo – Call on RBC to stop funding climate chaos

December 16, 2022

Dear President Goel and Board of Governors,

University of Waterloo’s Strategic Plan sets out as one of its key priorities to Strengthen Sustainable and Diverse Communities, recognizing “that accelerating climate change will magnify existing societal issues, with marginalized communities being among the most affected.” The plan goes on to state that students, employees, partners and stakeholders around the world will be looking to Waterloo to be a leader that can demonstrate to all how to take transformative action as we work for a sustainable future.

UW is doing much to live up to this commitment. In 2021, UWaterloo made a praiseworthy and necessary commitment to achieve 100% carbon neutrality in both its pension and endowment fund by 2040[1]. UW hosts the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which helps to spread awareness and act on the 17 SDGs. Over 360 faculty members are conducting research that addresses the SDGs; students are learning about the SDGs in over 680 courses, and UW is making good progress on achieving our sustainability strategy objectives [2]. We are proud of the actions and direction UW has taken in this climate fight. 

This is precisely why we are disappointed by the recent news of an expanded partnership with RBC to bolster the Bachelor of Sustainability and Financial Management program [3]. We, of course, recognize the importance of building students’ skills beyond practicing accounting and financial management, so they can meet the challenges of the day with a better understanding of environmental law, social equality, carbon emissions, and ecosystem science. Rather, we are concerned with UW’s choice of partner.

RBC is the top fossil fuel financier in Canada and fifth in the world [4]. They have invested over $201 billion in fossil fuels just since the Paris Agreement [4, p. 11]. and their estimated emissions from loans and project finance are 38 million tonnes of CO2 [5, p. 69]. At the same time, RBC is spreading a message of youth empowerment with the RBC Future Launch campaign. “Youth deserve a better chance,” they claim [6].

We agree with RBC there. Youth and future generations are owed action by the current generation in power to minimize the climate crisis while they can.

The hypocrisy of investing youth while funding climate change is infuriating. While RBC has committed $500 billion to “sustainable financing” by 2025 [2], they are presently continuing to fund fossil fuel expansions, such as the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project, to which RBC loaned $1.94 billion dollars [7, p. 4]. RBC is also financing the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, in opposition to Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who are opposed to the pipeline’s construction on traditional Indigenous land, which they report has damaged rivers and wetland forests, and limited their ability to hunt wildlife [8]. 

RBC’s commitments to fight climate change as part of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (a global coalition of leading financial institutions committed to accelerating the decarbonization of the economy) are hollow. RBC has provided more than $9.2 billion of fossil fuel financing and have underwritten projects from fossil fuel expansionists like Enbridge, ExxonMobil, Chevron, TC Energy, and Saudi Aramco since joining GFANZ [7, p. 4].  Unsurprisingly, RBC is currently under investigation by the Competition Bureau of Canada “for misrepresenting its climate credentials for the purpose of marketing its investments and financial products” [7, p. 23]. 

By openly accepting and praising RBC’s donation without any mention of RBC’s contribution to the climate crisis, the University of Waterloo is complicit in minimizing the issue. Donating in the name of ‘sustainability’ helps institutions like RBC divert attention from their unsustainable activities to preserve their image and continue to increase their profits. It is our responsibility as a privileged community to take action against this. We cannot accept the hypocrisy of RBC who commits to helping “young Canadians prepare for a drastically changing workforce,” [9] while simultaneously investing in the destruction of their future. Since universities are essential to shaping the next generation of leaders, we hope President Goel and the Board of Governors feel the same way. 

UWaterloo rightly declared the climate crisis as an emergency, recognizing “the urgency of the climate crisis” and the need to “strengthen its commitment to taking bold climate action” [10]. UW understands that action involves urgently reducing dependence on fossil fuels. We therefore request that President Goel and the UW Board of Governors use their influence to call out RBC’s continued greenwashing efforts and to stand with us in UW’s commitment to go beyond divestment of fossil fuels and commit to not holding ‘any material positions in fossil fuel exploration and extraction companies by 2025’.[11]

If RBC wishes to follow through with its voiced commitment to young people’s futures and to combating climate change, its greenwashing must be replaced by green action. Beginning with transparency and taking accountability for what its money endorses, the bank must make verifiable changes to its practices before it can claim to support a sustainable future.

We believe it is important for all institutions, especially those in the business of guiding the future, to fight climate change in every possible way. We share this information with you because we are incredibly concerned for our future, and because we want University of Waterloo to continue to bring our practice in the world in line with what we learn in our classrooms. President Goel and the Board of governors – you are in a position to make a very important difference through your efforts. We hope you – and we – can be proud of these efforts as we fight for our future together. 

In hope,

Students for a Fossil Free UW

(And check out our op ed in the Radicle: https://theradicle.home.blog/2022/12/13/university-of-waterloo-call-on-rbc-to-stop-funding-climate-chaos/

[1] University of Waterloo commits to reduce carbon footprint of its pension and endowment investments 50 per cent by 2030, achieve net-neutral by 2040, 2021, https://uwaterloo.ca/news/media/university-waterloo-commits-reduce-carbon-footprint-its

[2] Environmental Sustainability Report, 2022, https://uwaterloo.ca/sustainability/our-progress

[3] New investment paves way towards a more sustainable future, 2022, https://uwaterloo.ca/news/arts/new-investment-paves-way-towards-more-sustainable-future?fbclid=IwAR2Kq-G5tt3fIrgtbTIFhp8OPW9U1TD1GIBSmz9OV70JwnVciI-Lf9lOlyw

[4] Banking on Climate Chaos Fossil Fuel Finance Report, 2022, https://www.bankingonclimatechaos.org/wp-content/themes/bocc-2021/inc/bcc-data-2022/BOCC_2022_vSPREAD.pdf

[5] Royal Bank of Canada Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) Performance Report, 2021, https://www.rbc.com/community-social-impact/_assets-custom/pdf/2021-ESG-Report.PDF

[6] About RBC Future Launch, N.D., https://www.rbc.com/dms/enterprise/futurelaunch/about.html

[7] Royal Bank of Canada: Surging Finance of Fires, Floods & Climate Chaos, 2022, https://stand.earth/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/RBC-Fossil-Financing-since-GFANZ-Stand.earth-report.pdf

[8] Royal Bank defends funding B.C.’s Coastal GasLink pipeline despite environmental concerns, 2022, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/rbc-coastal-gaslink-defends-1.6412189

[9] About RBC Future Launch, https://www.rbc.com/dms/enterprise/futurelaunch/about.html

[10] Climate Emergency Declaration, N.D., https://uwaterloo.ca/climate-emergency-declaration/

[11] University of Waterloo commits to reduce carbon footprint of its pension and endowment investments 50 per cent by 2030, achieve net-neutral by 2040, 2021, https://uwaterloo.ca/news/media/university-waterloo-commits-reduce-carbon-footprint-its

From June 2021


We did it!! – thanks to you all for the incredible support you’ve shown for this work over the years – and it has taken years!

Thank-you for the petitions you signed and circulated! Thank-you for the class talks you gave! Thank-you for showing up at meetings and events!  Thank-you for supporting our campaigns! Thank-you for caring about this work!!

More than 2000 students, faculty, staff, and community members and 25 of UW’s student groups contributed to this achievement – we wouldn’t be here without you.

Congratulations and thank-you for getting us here!!!

Read more about the University of Waterloo’s commitment to divest from the fossil fuel industry in this press release and from The Energy Mix, The Record, and KitchenerToday.


Humans cannot burn all the fossil fuel reserves that energy companies are planning to while still staying below the critical 1.5°C above pre-industrial mean temperatures. The simplicity of this fact belies the complexity that must be engaged to reorient economies and societies globally to make real reductions in emissions. Fossil Free UW is challenging the University of Waterloo community to act to protect our common future.

Did you know that the University of Waterloo is currently investing our money in companies that are contributing to climate change?

Fossil Free UW getting ready for Climate Strike, 2019

Fossil Free UW getting ready for Climate Strike, 2019

Currently, through pension funds and student endowments, the University of Waterloo is investing $44.8 million into the fossil fuel sector. Approximately half of these holdings are invested in Carbon Underground 200 listed companies, including Canadian National Resources Ltd., CNOOC, and Suncor, which are not only known heavy CO2 emitters, but some of which have participated in decades-long climate-denial campaigns. Moreover, some of these companies are responsible for environmental destruction on a massive scale, human rights violations, and corrupt practices. There are obvious environmental and ethical reasons why our University, the Canadian lead for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network, should not be investing in these firms.

Therefore, we have written to President Hamdullahpur and members of the University of Waterloo’s Board of Governors with this request:

Dear President Hamdullahpur and Members of the Board:

On behalf of students, staff, and faculty from across the University of Waterloo, we write to you to submit two documents with associated action requests for your consideration at the October 27th Board of Governors meeting.

The first document is a letter from faculty and staff calling on the Board of Governors to divest from fossil fuels and invest in a climate safe future. To date, this letter has been signed by over 250 faculty and staff members from across the university—we will submit the final list of signatories to you on October 21 .

The faculty and staff who have signed this letter are requesting that the Board of Governors immediately begin a process for 1) divesting the University’s endowment and pension plans completely from fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal), and associated infrastructure; and 2) reinvesting in socially responsible, low-carbon assets that safeguard investments and— more importantly—our collective future.

The second document takes that letter a step further. It is the executive summary of a policy written by students entitled University of Waterloo Carbon-Neutral Investment Policy, endorsed by 23 groups across our university—all student groups with one exception—including the Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association, Graduate Student Association, Racial Advocacy for Inclusion, Solidarity and Equity (RAISE), Engineers Without Borders UW, Environment Students’ Society, Science Society, SDG Impact Alliance, University of Waterloo Energy Network, UW General Equality Club, and UW Impact Alliance.

In response to this policy, the students are requesting that the Board of Governors not only divest holdings in fossil fuel and associated companies, but transition toward a carbon neutral portfolio over the next five years, to move the University towards greater sustainability while improving security and increasing returns.

View the full request to President Hamdullahpur and the Board of Governors here.

View the letter calling on the Board of Governors to divest from fossil fuels and invest in a climate safe future here, where faculty and staff can still sign on to show their support!

Students can show their support by signing the student petition here.