FREDERICTON–Despite the pandemic, students at New Brunswick’s four main universities are keeping their focus on the need for climate action: getting their institutions to divest from fossil fuels.
Divestment campaigns and actions to raise awareness of the climate crisis are ongoing at the University of New Brunswick (UNB), St. Thomas University (STU), Mt. Allison University (Mt. A), and l’Université de Moncton (U de M).
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific body advising the world’s governments on climate change impacts, reported that the world needs to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid climate catastrophe. Unfortunately, the carbon reduction targets many governments have set will not hit that target.
In 2012, in response to the lack of climate action, the international movement against investments in the fossil fuel industry began. Students in universities around the world initiated campaigns to demand that universities commit to an ethical financial portfolio by divesting fossil fuel holdings and investing in more sustainable energy companies.
In Fredericton, the Fossil Free UNB and Divest STU campaigns have joined efforts. As the student leaders of these campaigns, we are working closely together to advocate for sustainable investing at our respective universities.
In addition to providing this update at our own institutions, we met with students at Mt. A. and U de M to understand the picture across the province: where the New Brunswick divestment campaigns are, in their efforts to get their universities to take climate action, and how COVID-19 has affected those efforts.
Last year, the previous leader of Fossil Free UNB, Renaissance College student Rachel Bensler, made notable steps for the campaign. She had advocated for divestment to the UNB Board of Governor’s Investment committee, successfully obtained support from the UNB Student Union, and gathered more than 200 petition signatures from the University’s community.
Although the coronavirus pandemic put a brief halt to the campaign in early spring, Fossil Free UNB is continuing to push forward this year, led by first-year engineering student Rose He, one of the co-authors of this article.
The Fossil Free UNB campaign has continued seeking the support of groups on campus and is excited to announce support from the Union of Graduate Student Workers (UGSW).
There are thousands of individuals in the UNB community, and the Fossil Free UNB campaign values the support of every single person, group, and union, whether large or small. UNB groups, unions and individuals in the UNB community are encouraged to show their support by signing the divestment petition advocating for an ethical and sustainable financial portfolio located here.
Over the past year, major strides were made by the Divest STU campaign at St. Thomas University. One of Divest STU’s final actions taken for the 2019-2020 academic year was meeting with the university’s Investment Committee. Former coordinator of the campaign, Hannah Moore, presented at a virtual meeting with the committee in May 2020. The presentation was received positively by all members, with support and encouragement from multiple members of the committee.
Divest STU received unanimous support for divesting from fossil fuels from the St. Thomas University Students’ Union and FAUST, the faculty union at STU.
Divest STU also has an ongoing petition with close to 200 signatures to date from students, staff, faculty and alumni of STU. It is clear that the STU community is interested in seeing progressive change in the university’s investments.
Kelly Green the other co-author of this article, a fourth year St. Thomas student and coordinator for the campaign for the 2020-2021 academic year, is thrilled to get Divest STU back on its feet after a brief hiatus due to COVID. Although methods of delivering a campaign may differ this year, she is optimistic about moving this campaign forward digitally and creating a bigger media footprint.
Mt. Allison University is continuing its divestment campaign that began around 2015. Over the past few years the students leading the campaign have submitted detailed reports to the University’s Board of Regents, have been winning seats on student and university administrative councils, have won support of the Students’ Union and more.
Due to the unprecedented situation this year, the Mt. A. campaign had to adapt to digital campaigning. Their team has been working to increase engagement with their supporters and create more awareness through social media to keep the momentum going.
Mt. A is also using this year to do internal group work. There is a long history at Mt. A of a lack of engagement with the University’s administration to get divestment on their agenda. The divestment team feels that the administration is waiting until the momentum dies down, the leaders graduate, and the campaign stops. The team is working to create and maintain lasting education for future leaders of the campaign. They hope that this will make the campaign continue seamlessly even when the current leaders graduate.
At l’Université de Moncton, environmentalism is being headed by the student-led group, Symbiose. For Symbiose, last year was a “year of mobilization.” Although there is no active divestment campaign at the U de M this year, the group has actively campaigned for environmental action through the organisation of Fridays for the Future climate strikes. This year, the group is led by fourth-year psychology student, Bernard Fournier.
Due to changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Symbiose is focusing on online methods of engaging the student community. As for the organization’s future plans, they are currently in the early process of discussing a two-year plan with the university’s Master’s in Environmental Studies Program. Their goal is to structure a climate action strategy in order to lower l’Université de Moncton’s carbon emissions and take one step forward towards sustainability.
Although this year has changed the way these universities campaign, the climate crisis does not wait. Together we and other student leaders are pushing to make New Brunswick universities leaders in climate action and join a worldwide network of sustainable investments and environmental protection.
Kelly Green is a St. Thomas University student majoring in Environment & Society and Communications & Public Policy with a minor in Sociology and Science & Technology Studies. She is leading the Divest STU campaign. Rose He is in the first-year Engineering program at the University of New Brunswick. She is leading the Fossil-Free UNB campaign. Both Green and He are supported by the UNB RAVEN project.