Trent University: Go Fossil Free!
In an effort to take local action to prevent global catastrophic climate change, Sustainable Trent has launched a full-fledged campaign to demand that the Trent University Board of Governors divest our endowment and pension funds from the fossil fuel industry. This campaign is part of an international movement which is building strength at college and university campuses, municipalities, churches and other institutions in North America, Europe, and other parts of the world.
We call on Trent University to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies, and to divest from direct ownership and from any commingled funds that include fossil-fuel public equities and corporate bonds within five years.
Take Action: Sign the petition if you agree that Trent University should live up to its reputation as a leader in sustainability, and divest from the fossil fuel industry!
The campaign to urge the Trent University President and Board of Governors to divest from the fossil fuel industry began late in early March of 2013. The idea is part of an international movement started by 350.org in the US and taken up by the Canadian Youth Climate Change Coalition in Canada, to put pressure on the Canadian tar sands and the fossil fuel industry and remove funds from them on the basis of them being unethical investments.
We decided to put the issue to a student referendum in the TCSA elections at the end of March, in order to gage student opinion on divestment. This involved an intensive campaign which included a front-page article titled “Trent Must Divest From the Fossil Industry” by ST member Calvin Beauchesne, information sheets and posters all over campus, and intensive in-person campaigning to raise awareness about the vote. The results were a success: 76% of students voted “yes” to our referendum question “Do you support Trent divesting from the fossil fuel industry?”
ST members met with Trent’s President Steven Franklin on April 3rd, 2013 during his open forum to talk about divestment and the student referendum. He already knew about it, and the 76% results in favour of fossil fuel divestment: “I read the Arthur,” he said. He acknowledged that students want the University to divest from fossil fuels, and he also thanked us for allowing five years for this process, since it involves discussions with the unions, the province, and the Board of Governors, and is logistically time-consuming. He mentioned that Trent invests millions of dollars in the TDAM Emerald Pooled Fund. We have had access to this investment portfolio and the companies include some of the most notorious fossil fuel corporations: Enbridge, Exxon Mobil, and Chevron are just a few of a long list. Franklin admitted that he may not be the most credible person to work on the divestment issue, since he has received money from oil companies for research. We appreciate his honesty and openness on this. Much of the discussion at the forum focused on how much the University needs money.
This is the statement we presented to the TCSA to put divestment on the student ballot:
Trent University divestment from fossil fuel corporations
Climate change is a serious threat to current and future generations here at Trent University and around the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report found that global warming is already causing costly disruption of human and natural systems throughout the world including the melting of Arctic ice, the ocean’s rise in acidity, and flooding and drought among other things. These extreme events have and will continue to negatively impact the Canadian economy. It is estimated that the economic impacts of climate change in Canada could reach $5 billion a year by 2020 and between $21 and $43 billion a year by 2050.
Almost every government in the world has agreed through the 2009 Copenhagen Accord that any warming above a 2°C (3.6°F) rise would be unsafe, and that humans can only pour about 565 more giga tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere to maintain this limit.
For the purposes of this resolution, a “fossil fuel company” shall be defined as any of the two hundred publicly-traded companies with the largest coal, oil, and gas reserves as measured by the giga tons of carbon dioxide that would be emitted if those reserves were extracted and burned, as listed in the Carbon Tracker Initiative’s “Unburnable Carbon”.
In its “Unburnable Carbon” report, the Carbon Tracker Initiative found that fossil fuel companies possess proven fossil fuel reserves that would release approximately 2,795 giga tons of CO2 if they are burned, which is five times the amount that can be released without exceeding 2°C of warming.
The companies in the “Unburnable Carbon” report such as Shell, Exxon, and Peabody Energy also have a poor track with respect to human rights. These companies are often found guilty of violating treaties with Indigenous peoples, not taking full responsibility for oil spills and other environmental disasters and are causing serious health problems among people such as those living on the Athabasca River downstream from the tar sands.
Trent University has often been seen as a leader among schools both in the fight against climate change and for their support of indigenous and human rights issues. The university has invested in LEED standard buildings, research in renewable energy and has always supported events that raise awareness about the threat of human rights in relation to environmental issues.
In the environmental procurement policy of Trent University it states “the University is committed to actions designed to conserve and protect the environment and will continue to implement those actions whenever possible and economical.” In the supply chain code of ethics it states the purchasing practitioners are expected to “demonstrate respect for each other and for the environment.” These statements are not true if Trent University has investments in the fossil fuel industry. Students of Trent University believe that investments should support a future where all citizens can live healthy, dignified lives without the negative impacts of a warming climate and human rights violations.
Students at more than two hundred colleges and universities in the United States and a dozen in Canada including University of Toronto, McGill and McMaster have launched campaigns to have their institutions divest from fossil fuel companies. Three schools in the United States have already made the move to divest from these companies. These schools are Unity, Hampshire and Sterling College.
By the results of this referendum, the members of the Trent Central Student Association urge the President and the Board of Governors to:
- Immediately cease any new investments in fossil fuel companies or in commingled assets that include holdings in fossil fuel companies
- Contact the fund managers and request that the fossil fuel companies be removed from the funds
- Ensure that none of their directly held or commingled assets include holdings in fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years as determined by the Carbon Tracker list.
- Prepare a report and options for investing the endowment in a way that further maximizes the positive impact of the fund by seeking out investments in opportunities to limit the effects of burning fossil fuels or help to mitigate its effects including, but not limited to, clean technology, renewable energy, sustainable companies or projects, and sustainable communities.
- Release quarterly updates, available to the public, detailing progress made towards full divestment.