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February 15, 2016

University of British Columbia Rejects Divestment

Today the University of British Columbia became the second leading university this year to reject fossil fuel divestment. Cornell rejected divestment last month.

The UBC decision follows a vote by the school’s Finance Committee that recommended the University retain its fossil fuel investments.   The Board of Governors has instead decided to allocate $10 million to a sustainable future fund, which will invest in low-carbon emission and high environmental, social, and governance equity funds.

As vocal divestment critics on campus pointed out, divestment would come with a high price tag for little gain.

Professor Werner Antweiler, an associate professor at the Saunder School of Business noted the hypocrisy of the movement in a student newspaper:

“I’m skeptical about the divestment campaign in the sense that the fossil fuel companies provide a good that is […] in high demand…I feel like this is not the right way to change things.”

Meanwhile, former UBC President, Dr. Arvind Gupta, had expressed similar criticism for the divestment movement and its backers from 350.org.  In emails released by the Globe and Mail, he stated:

“… Presumably [350.org’s members] are refusing to benefit from hydrocarbons in what they wear, what they eat, where they live, and how they stay warm.  If they are really going to extremes to live life without carbon-based energy I can respect that.  But I very much doubt that the vast majority of students are willing to follow suit to this extent.”

UBC currently has an endowment of $1.2 billion dollars, of which more than $100 million is invested in oil, natural gas and coal.  By voting against divestment, UBC’s Board of Governors has spared its endowment a series of divestment-associated costs.  In fact,  a report by Professor Daniel Fischel of the University of Chicago’s Law School emphasized that divested endowments should anticipate trading, compliance, and diversification costs.

UBC’s decision not to divest is just the latest blow to the movement.  Over the last few weeks New York’s Cornell University has conclusively decided against divesting and the University of Cincinnati’s own students rejected divestment as a merely symbolic gesture. The list of schools rejecting divestment continues to grow, with leading schools like Harvard, Brown, Columbia and Yale all saying no to this costly campaign.

When one considers the fact that fossil fuel divestment would have no real impact on the bottom line of the targeted companies but would damage some of our country’s finest research and academic institutions, it is entirely understandable that so many institutions, like UBC, are outright rejecting calls to dump their energy stocks.