Address to the Board of Governors

by Truzaar Dordi, June 5, 2018

Good afternoon and happy World Environment Day. My name is Truzaar Dordi and I’m here today representing Fossil Free UW, a group of students advocating for the University to divest their pensions and endowments from the fossil fuel industry. I have met with a few of you over recent months, so thank you for involving us through this process and for letting me speak to you today. Although the recommendation is not in our favour, we truly commend the diligence and rigor that the Responsible Investment Working Group has taken in preparing this report.

At this point in time, we are disheartened to see the recommendation from the Working Group reject the call for divestment at any level. We believe the University is well positioned to be a leader in this field. I believe one point of contention between our groups is the perception that divestment is still a form of ethical screening – it is not. The research we have shared with the Working Group overwhelmingly presents divestment as a financially favourable strategy. I hope that this is one point that we can gain consensus on down the line. We are also disappointed to hear that the Board denied the Faculty Association’s request for an extension to gather feedback on the report. I fear that this unwavering stance will leave students and faculty displeased.

On the other hand, I am optimistic that the University will take a proactive approach to responsible investing, through the adoption of the UNPRI. With the right indicators and appropriate tests, I’m sure you’ll see that there is a clear ethical and financial case to systematically decrease investments with high carbon exposure, in the fossil fuel sector and other industries. Please do not overlook the fossil free group as uniformed protestors or activism – we are all experts in the fields of energy policy, health, environment, and sustainable finance. We have world renowned scholars at the University who are willing to advance this agenda, so please do utilize their expertise.

If the board elects to support the recommendation of the Working Group, and reject our call for divestment, we hope that you choose to take a path of engagement. Engage with your investment managers and use your influence to push for aggressive measures. Today’s decision is just the beginning of a major transformation in how we manage our money.

Thank you.

FFUW REACTS TO THE RIWG’S DIVESTMENT REJECTION

Last week, the RIWG released its recommendations to the Board of Governors. The report, published a mere four days before the Board is scheduled to vote on the recommendations, rejects students’ and faculty’s request that the University divest its pension and endowment funds from fossil fuels.

FFUW thus urges the Board of Governors to respect students’ and faculty’s will, to uphold the University’s commitments to environmental and social justice, sustainability and innovation, and to vote against these recommendations. Read FFUW’s Memorandum to the Board of Governors.

See also FFUW’s Op-Ed and Press Release responding to the RIWG’s report.

University of Waterloo: Time to Divest from Fossil Fuels

Op-Ed by Yonatan Strauch

When the Board of Governors meets today, the University of Waterloo will be presented with recommendations from its responsible investment committee to reject a call from students and faculty to divest its endowment and pension fund from fossil fuels. This recommendation, however, is based on woefully incomplete analysis. Rather than approve it, the university should take the time to properly study the financial and moral cases for divestment.

Investing in fossil fuels is an increasingly risky bet. Given the University’s $68 million in fossil fuel investments (as revealed in a partial data disclosure), outside estimates suggest that our campus lost $20 million over the last five years thanks to these investments. This is a global trend. The Bill Gates foundation, for example, lost $1.9 billion after refusing to divest in 2015.

These losses are driven by the very low carbon innovation and climate action the University claims to champion. Renewables prices continue to plunge with Alberta’s recently purchasing new wind-power at prices well below those of coal. At the same time Canada leads a global “power past coal coalition.” University investments are more concentrated in oil than coal, but with the rise of electric vehicle the climate closer to the brink each year, a widespread disruption of oil markets may be on the horizon next.

Still, the secretariat of the Board of Governors refused a request from the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo to slow down and vote on the just-released recommendations in the fall. The administration also declined to study whether its investments in fossil fuels have lost money, or whether they present a systemic financial risk to its fund in a world increasingly shifting to clean energy.

The moral case for fossil fuel divestment is equally compelling, because if fossil fuel stocks do thrive, this is an even worse reason to stay invested. Avoiding catastrophic climate change means keeping warming to below 2 degrees as committed to in the international Paris Agreement. And that requires leaving more than two-thirds of existing fossil fuel reserves in the ground; they are ‘un-burnable’. Yet the University of Waterloo seeks to profit from the companies working to dig up those very un-burnable fossil fuels. To ensure financial returns to the university, these companies also need to succeed in their ongoing multi-billion-dollar efforts to obstruct government climate action and confuse the public. How can the university tout its newly minted leadership within the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network while it seeks financial success at the cost of a climate unfit for civilization?

The University’s rush to reject divestment ignores both its financial and moral obligations. And it is based on a flimsy rationale. The responsible investment committee report           claims that divestment from a whole sector is too broad, even though other institutions have tailored their own approach – for example, divesting only from coal-related stocks. It also claims that divesting would be against its “fiduciary duty,” even as dozens of universities and major pensions bound by the same duty have formally announced divestment of managed funds totally $6.15 trillion.

Like the Bill Gates Foundation, the University of Waterloo appears ready to quickly brush aside divestment and risk losing millions once clean energy and climate policy finally hit oil stocks. Whatever the board decides today, with a growing number of students and faculty keenly aware of what is at stake, the pressure will grow on the university to practice what it preaches and invest like the climate matters.

STUDENTS MAKE A STATEMENT AT BOARD OF GOVERNORS’ MEETING AHEAD OF JULY VOTE

 

This Tuesday, April 3, 2018, we intercepted the University’s Governors as they entered their Board Meeting and handed them a memorandum outlining our support for divestment and our recommended course of action in prevention of the Responsible Investment Working Group report expected in June 2018.

Behind us, we displayed the names of the more than 600 students, faculty, and alumni who have signed our petition in support of divestment at the University of Waterloo.

UW Fossil Fuel Divestment: If it’s non-renewable, it’s non-negotiable

Op-Ed by Kaitlin Thompson and Daniel Tyrie

FFUW is not alone. We are one of many student organizations across North America pushing our academic institutions to better represent our social values in a financially responsible way. Student-led divestment movements similar to FFUW have popped up at all major universities across Canada, including at U of T, UBC and McGill. Last February, Université Laval became the first Canadian university to divest its endowment funds. Syracuse University in the United States saw returns of 12% on its divested endowment fund, demonstrating that the divestment decision is both environmental and fiscally responsible.

The divestment movement is not limited to the academic arena; it has become increasingly common in the private sector as well. More than $6 trillion has already been divested worldwide and the number is growing. In January of this year the mayor of New York City announced $5 billion in divestment, and a lawsuit against five major oil companies for their role in climate change. Lawsuits of this type had historically been limited to environmental groups and Indigenous activists. Norway’s trillion dollar Sovereign Wealth Fund, the largest in the world, recommended full divestment in a move that shocked world markets. These two major developments mark the divestment movement’s transition into the mainstream and set a precedent of environmental accountability for major cities and nations around the world.

Divestment has become more appealing to mainstream actors not only for ethical and environmental reasons but also due to the financial implications. The fiduciary duty of an investor to achieve strong returns on behalf of their beneficiary is no longer seen as a barrier to divestment, but rather a reason to divest. As green energy prices drop and climate consideration becomes a necessity, fossil fuel holdings have become increasingly risky. Conservative estimates show that the University of Waterloo has already realized losses upwards of 14% on fossil fuel investments made in pension, endowment and trust funds, totalling over $20 million between 2011 and 2015. According to PhD candidate Truzaar Dordi, “Some may argue that the University should maintain its fossil fuel investments lest it lose out. However, the opposite concern – that keeping these investments is financially risky – may be the greater concern. The well-recognized terminal decline of the coal industry shows that not every bust is followed by a new boom once clean energy technologies mature.” This information suggests that markets have already begun to respond to the riskiness of fossil fuel investment. Considering that significant government and private  action has been taken to reduce dependence on coal fired plants, it is reasonable to assume that similar actions will be made in the oil industry in order to meet the internationally accepted two degree warming limit.

The University of Waterloo prides itself on being a leader in sustainability and innovation. UW holds Canada’s largest Faculty of Environment and its 2016 Sustainability Report found that 542 courses are focused on or include sustainability. This May UW will take on the role of the Canadian-lead for the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, with its mission to support sustainable development leadership and learning among over 700 participating institutions around the world. This kind of position puts the University in the international spotlight and is an amazing opportunity to lead by example – yet the University simultaneously is quietly investing in the fossil fuel industry that is responsible for devastating our climate and our future.

We the students expect the university to practice what it preaches and take action now. University of Waterloo should maintain its reputation as a leader amongst Canadian universities, and embrace the win-win opportunity that divestment offers. This is our money and we expect it to be spent in ways that reflect our values, offer a secure financial return, and preserve our future. UW students and faculty are demanding that the Board of Governors recognize the importance of divestment and represent the values of its constituents at Tuesday’s meeting. University of Waterloo – this is the time to divest.

See it published in The Record, here.