UW’s Decision on Divestment in Fossil Fuels is Pushed Back Until 2021

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Graphics by Candice Cheng

The University of Waterloo’s Board of Governors delayed their decision on divestment from fossil fuels to 2021 as they continue to consider the proposal from over 2,100 members of the UW community delivered on Oct. 27, 2020. 

The board is expected to record their decision next meeting in early February 2021. For the time being, UW’s finance and investment committee are investigating further into divestment. 

The letter, signed by 431 faculty and staff members at UW, called for divestment from fossil fuel and investment in establishing an environmentally-sound future for the university. A similar petition was signed by over 1,700 students. 

The 2,100+ signees asked the Board of Governors to immediately begin a process for divesting UW’s endowment and pension plans completely from fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) and  transitioning toward a carbon-neutral portfolio.

In addition to the ethical argument surrounding divestment there is an economic argument, as the financial returns on fossil fuels in the past two years have plummeted. The fossil fuel sector is in financial trouble, which is worsening as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Even before the pandemic, a study estimated that the University’s investment in fossil fuel had lost at least $20 million between 2011 and 2015.

Olaf Weber, an advocate for divestment, professor, and the university’s research chair in sustainable finance, said he hadn’t been expecting an early decision as the Board of Governors have to follow their decision-making processes.

“What I was missing, however, was a clear commitment that we have to stop financing climate change because climate change will have a negative impact on the future of our students,” Weber said. “With many universities in Canada already declared to divest, the Board and the committee should explain why they do not address such an important issue such as climate change with everything they can. This is not the behavior I expect from a university that wants to be the most innovative in Canada, that conducts climate-related research, and wants to become carbon neutral.”

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