In a recent cross-Canada call, students from many university divestment campaigns, including the University of New Brunswick, discussed their campaign status, challenges, and goals going forward. Divestment, a climate action strategy, requires removing financial investments from the fossil fuel industry. The purpose is to make an environmental and ethical statement and contribute to the mass movement towards sustainable energy sources.
The students working on divestment campaigns believe that universities have a special responsibility to divest. They foster our society’s future leaders including industry leaders. By investing in fossil fuels, universities actively profit from the destruction of students’ futures. Fossil fuel investments no longer produce predictable financial returns; in fact, some fossil-free investment portfolios perform better.
Students across Canada are fed up with this and are campaigning for change at the University of New Brunswick and more than 30 other institutions. Divestment campaigns are underway at universities in British Columbia (Simon Fraser University, Thompson Rivers University, University of Northern British Colombia, Kwantlen University, University of British Colombia, University of Victoria) in Alberta (MacEwan University), in Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan University), in Manitoba (University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg), in Ontario (University of Ottawa, Carleton University, Queens University, McMaster University, Trent University, Lakehead University, Ryerson University, University of Toronto, York University, Waterloo University, Guelph University), in Quebec ( McGill University, Concordia University), in New Brunswick (St. Thomas University, Mount Allison University, University of Moncton, University of New Brunswick), Newfoundland (University of Grenfell, St. Francis Xavier University), in Nova Scotia (Dalhousie University, Kings University, and in Prince Edward Island (University of PEI).
On the cross-Canada call, students working on many of these campaigns described facing a corporate investment tactic called “greenwashing.” Universities are greenwashing when they advertise their investments as greener than they actually are. Universities do this by arguing that the companies they invest in are constantly improving, or by stating that low-carbon initiatives are adequate, or by claiming that environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors are being taken into account without actual evidence of what this looks like. Alternatively, investment managers present the portfolios as greener or more carbon friendly than they may actually be.
These excuses for keeping fossil fuel investments can discourage student campaigns or slow down the action of governing committees.
Within our system of capitalism, the goal of investments is simply financial: make the most profit as quickly and reliably as possible. However, when we take the natural environment into account, we have to ask some serious questions about the impact of our investments. As of December 31, 2018, the University of New Brunswick had $10.9 million, or 3.3% of its Long-Term Investment Fund, invested in a list known as the Carbon Underground 200: the top emitting 200 oil, gas, and coal companies based on carbon reserves.
Investments enable companies to expand on their current work projects. Fossil fuel companies need to face the reality that there is more carbon in the ground then we can safely burn. Further investments in this industry will only result in a further waste of the earth’s carbon budget: the amount of carbon emissions that can be produced until the climate will reach the tipping point of a 2 degree temperature increase. The only way to keep fossil fuels in the ground is to stop giving money to fossil fuel companies.
A recent UNB report states that the university is dedicated to being Carbon Neutral by 2050. The timeline of 2050 is very slow. However even more concerning, this report includes little talk of investments. How can an institution be truly carbon neutral if it fails to take into account the environmental impact of its investments? The UNB plan includes investing in renewable energy but does not reference the millions of dollars that could remain invested in the fossil fuel industry.
As an institution, UNB should be not only investing in the future of its students in the form of renewable energy but also divesting itself from the industries actively destroying it. Universities across Canada should be setting goals to eliminate any connection to the fossil fuel industry’s massive carbon emissions. Instead of greenwashing our futures, they should take responsibility for their current investments, then quickly invest in a greener, brighter, future.
If you are a UNB student, faculty, stuff, or alumni – you have the opportunity to support the UNB fossil fuel divestment campaign here.
Rachel Bensler is a second-year student at UNB’s Renaissance College, the leader of the Fossil-Free UNB Campaign and part of the RAVEN project team. You can read other articles by Rachel by clicking on her name tag below.