Climate groups call on BC universities to reinvest in local communities

Following successful divestment campaigns, student climate groups are now calling on BC universities to reinvest in their communities.

In one countryside launched towards the end of 2021, Climate Justice UBC (CJUBC), SFU350 and DivestUVic have joined forces to inspire universities to go beyond simple divestment. They are asking BC universities to reinvest 10% of their endowments and working capital into community investments, among other demands. These 10 p. 100 would total more than $500 million.

UBC, the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University have all committed to divest, but are all at different stages of the process.

CJUBC, formerly UBCC350, spent six years fighting to get UBC to divest itself of its core fossil fuel endowment. In 2019, UBC pledged to divest, a huge win for climate activists on campus and beyond.

CJUBC said The Ubyssian that this reinvestment campaign is the “next step”, after the divestment.

The current campaign has five main demands: the integration of social and environmental impact across asset classes and capital pools; the creation of a new community investment asset class with a target of 10% of university investment assets; First Nations commitment on investment of funds; the transfer of cash and guaranteed investment contracts to financial institutions without fossil resources; and collaborating with other universities and organizations to “amplify the impact of community investment”.

Collaboration is a key part of the campaign, said CJUBC’s Rachel Cheang.

“Over the past few years, as more and more Canadian universities divest, we have truly seen the most significant impact of coalitions and universities coming together to articulate concrete demands and lobby universities together” , Cheang said.

UBC responded to a media inquiry about the new demands by sending out a statement about the university’s commitment to divestment and climate action.

Yale Loh, treasurer of UBC, wrote that sustainability and climate action are “deeply integrated” into UBC’s operations. He noted that the university had made significant progress on divestment, but acknowledged that this was only a first step for the university.

“At present, investment products for institutional investors that address climate and social justice issues are still relatively limited and there is little historical performance data available, which UBC IMANT [Investment Management Trust] relies to evaluate and select funds,” Loh wrote. “As such, UBC IMANT works on behalf of UBC to influence and advance the investment industry through education, and push industry leaders to design investment products that meet better to these critical issues.

Now that applications have been “soft launched” on the CJUBC website, groups are now beginning an extensive community consultation process.

“A lot of the campaign itself is very explicit about talking to [different UBC communities] and doing it the right way and making sure their views are reflected in what we offer,” said Sarah Salloum of CJUBC.

Britt Runeckles, another member of CJUBC, added that they will participate in trainings on how to do an effective consultation. CJUBC hopes to release a consultation report by April and tentatively launch the campaign next fall. But speed is not a priority for CJUBC.

“Our priority is to make sure this is all done the right way, rather than faster,” Salloum said.

Salloum and Cheang encouraged students to pay attention to this campaign, especially if they care about university divestment. They also talked about the precedent it could set if UBC follows through.

“$500 million is a lot of money that could potentially be spent on really important, local, sustainable initiatives that could still generate a return on investment for the university,” Salloum said.

— With files by Vik Sangar

Runeckles is a board member of the Ubyssey Publications Society. The board has no say The Ubyssianeditorial operations.

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