Trent University’s Board of Governors has rejected fossil fuel divestment after more than a year of deliberation.
On May 8 2015, the Board of Governors, led by the Investment and Pension Committee, announced that the university will not divest from fossil fuels after a “careful” review of the proposal, including recommendations from Sustainable Trent.
Trent will continue to invest in coal, oil and gas companies while catastrophic climate change looms closer, pipelines rupture, oil-burdened trains explode, and the tar sands continue to encroach on Indigenous lands.
While fossil fuel companies poison the air we breathe and contaminate our waters, pumping CO2 into the air while climate change rages onward, Trent thinks it’s reasonable to keep supporting these corporations through its investments.
The membership of Sustainable Trent is extremely disappointed by the Board’s decision to not pursue divestment from fossil fuels, as doing so would have been both the moral and financially responsible thing to do.
By continuing its investment in fossil fuels, Trent is continuing to profit off of climate change, oil spills, human and Indigenous rights violations, and environmental destruction. Trent is also making itself vulnerable to the carbon bubble, and risks losing money on its investments.
This decision comes despite the wide support of the Trent community. Trent students voted for divestment by a wide majority of 76% in the 2013 student elections. The Board’s decision ignores the over 1300 people who signed a petition calling on Trent to divest, and the over 50 faculty who signed an open letter urging divestment. Numerous organizations also supported Sustainable Trent’s campaign, such as CUPE Local 3908 and the Trent Central Student Association. The Board’s failure to heed student voices and take a democratic approach demonstrates that Trent students cannot count on the BOG to act in their best interests.
Instead of divestment, the Board chose to invest 10% of the endowment fund in a “socially responsible investment” fund predicated on the United Nations Principles on Responsible Investment. This new endowment category will “be available for designation by university donors”, and “may accommodate some fossil fuel investments.”
Sustainable Trent acknowledges that establishing an endowment category for responsible investments is a baby step in the right direction. The positive thing about this approach is that socially responsible investing can consider a lot more than just fossil fuel companies – it deals with all kinds of ethical issues ranging from human rights to environmental protection.
Still, it falls very short of what is needed. Roger Lohmann, Associate Professor of Anthropology, sums it up well: “10% is something, and I applaud that at least this recognizes that socially responsible investing exists and is desirable. However, it’s deeply troubling that the BOG apparently thinks that directing 90% of our financial backing to business practices that are likely to be socially irresponsible makes good financial or ethical sense.”
We would be more impressed if Trent decided to invest the entire endowment fund according to responsible investment principles. That at least would be a bolder move. We would be even more impressed if Trent made this move AND embarked on divestment from fossil fuels. That would be easy since fossil fuel investments are by nature socially irresponsible. But a mere 10% of the endowment is not a change to the status quo. It sounds more like the appearance of an ethical stance than a true effort to change how the university invests its money.
Trent has missed out on an opportunity to be a strong leader in environmental sustainability and social justice among universities in Canada. Concordia University recently set a precedent by becoming the first university in Canada to partially divest from fossil fuels, committing to divesting $5 million out of its $130 million endowment. Trent could have one-upped Concordia by showing more bold leadership and divesting its full endowment fund.
The membership of Sustainable Trent will keep pushing until the Board of Governors and Investment and Pension Committee commit to full divestment from fossil fuels. We do not accept this decision to invest in companies that are actively destroying the land and the future of the Trent’s own students.