SFU 100 encourages students to fight for fossil fuel divestment

Wednesday's event took place in the AQ.

In the AQ hallway, SFU 350 and Embark’s Divest SFU campaign invited students to help their university decide where to keep its money.

The campaign, which calls for SFU to divest within five years from fossil fuel companies, is part of a movement that has had growing support. Many universities, colleges, and other organizations have pledged to divest, including Stanford University and Glasgow University. In a shocking development, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund also declared that it would divest its $860 million fortune that famously originated from the fossil fuel industry.

Closer to home, this “SFU 100” event encouraged SFU students to think of the future of their institution, and how it should use its financial weight.

SFU 350 president Raaj Chatterjee told The Peak that “divestment is a sizeable impact that the university can make in terms of the fight against climate change and holding companies accountable to their actions.”

Chatterjee explained that so far, the Divest SFU campaign’s petition has collected almost 2,000 signatures, and that SFU has been “responding in [an] appropriate way” to pressure from Divest SFU.

In the past, the university has announced that it has signed onto the UN Principles of Responsible Investment and the Paris Pledge for Climate Action, which both call for signatories to consider building resilience and social responsibility with their investments. Chatterjee was cautiously optimistic that SFU has agreed to create a divestment policy of some sort, but at this stage the idea is still “pretty vague.”

However, three Canadian universities have recently rejected divestment despite student pressure. McGill, the University of Toronto, and the University of British Columbia have all cited the limited effectiveness of divestment from influencing fossil fuel companies, as well as the responsibility to maintain financial returns as their reasons for not divesting.

If SFU decides not to divest, SFU 350 has also been circulating another petition that will become relevant. Chatterjee said that the group has collected over 300 signatures of students that have pledged to take some form of “direct action” in the case SFU does not divest. He explained that this might include “some sort of rally or sit-in.” Earlier this week, McGill students, dissatisfied with their university’s decision, staged a sit-in in the administration building and camped outside, catching the attention of the university’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor.

Rather than just gathering signatures, the event was a way for the Divest SFU to have a conversation with students. Said Chatterjee, “I think all students know about climate change, they all know about global warming [. . .] but students often feel that they don’t have a voice where they are.”

There is currently no timeline for the Board of Governors to elaborate on their divestment policy. However, after lobbying the Board for three years to get to this stage, the Divest SFU campaign has certainly proved that its members think of it as a responsible investment of their time.