Is Waterloo unconsciously funding climate change?</p>
Students asked themselves this question as Fossil Free UW, a student-run organization, made a proposal to the Waterloo Environment Studies Endowment Foundation (WESEF), requesting that the fund divest its holdings from the top 200 fossil fuel companies. Holding these companies largely responsible for perpetuating climate change, approximately 94 per cent of the voters voted in favour of the movement at the fund’s annual general meeting last Thursday.
During the meeting, WESEF discussed constitutional amendments to its bylaws, financial summaries, and held a vote for the divestment proposal. It was explained that the faculty’s tuition includes a $30 endowment fee, which is partially invested in the fund. The interest made on the principal is then used to fund student projects, which is co-ordinated by WESEF.
Brandon Love and Chris Raftis were two members of Fossil Free UW who presented during the meeting. During the presentation, which held a captive audience, Raftis explained that “climate change goes beyond ecological impact.”
Many might agree with him, as political leaders and analysts around the world have concluded that, should the planet warm 2°C above the pre-industrial average, the climate impact could be catastrophic. It is currently projected that this could occur as soon as 2036, causing mass flooding and famine. During the presentation, Love and Raftis explained that fossil fuels are rapidly consuming the remaining carbon budget, accelerating the global temperature increase.
Some students at the meeting were disappointed to hear that the proposal allocated a five-year time period for the divestment process. “This is more flexible for the fund manager,” explained Love. “It gives them the best chance to divest the fund and also make the best use of student’s money.” Shalaka Jadhav, chair of the board, agreed with Love and stressed the extensive administrative process: “[This is] due to the fact that money is involved.”
Some students at the meeting also questioned why the proposal only included the top 200 fossil fuel companies and not all of them. Raftis explained that “We have to draw the line somewhere … We have made a clear line that managers at the university can be held to.”
Globally, fossil fuels are the primary source of energy. However, between the depleting fossil fuel reserves, which are expected to last only 100 to 150 years longer, and their negative impact on the climate, the urgency for renewable energy has heightened. Some even believe that fossil fuels and renewables are market comparables. Ultimately, how the risk is managed will be up to the fund manager.
UW is not the first school to consider this divestment. McGill University made headlines early in September 2015 when a group of students protested the school’s investment in fossil fuels. However, no other institution has actually divested from fossil fuels.
Other global institutions have been more proactive. Syracuse University divested $1.18 billion from its fossil fuel investments. Oxford University and the University of California both divested its coal and tarsands invesments, with the latter divesting $200 million.
So, what will happen next?
Jadhav explained that the WESEF board will vote on the proposal, taking the voting figures from the annual general meeting into consideration. Eventually, a referendum will be held by Feds and the Graduate Student Assocation on the constitutional amendments made during the meeting and the divestment proposal. After that, it is up to the board of governors.
Jadhav was pleased with the meeting, and hopes that it happens more regularly: “It seems like [the students] care about their education and what the school means to them … I am really happy this was a place for discussion.”
For the university’s part, Nick Manning, director of media relations and issues, added, “We are aware of the outcome of the vote at the WESEF AGM. We will continue to work with the members of WESEF as they continue to finalize their internal processes to propose a motion to the University of Waterloo.”