By: Michelle Gomez, Assistant News Editor
SFU’s Board of Governors has voted in favor of eliminating investment in carbon-emitting companies by 45% over the next five years.
Alison Blair, Associate Vice-President, Finance, expanded on what this entails in an interview with The Peak.
“We’re not divesting — we measure the carbon footprint of our investments, the public equity portion of the endowment and the non-endowment portfolios, and we commit to reducing that carbon footprint, not to divesting from fossil fuels.”
Blair explained that a large factor in the Board’s decision was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s announced goal of 45% reduction by 2030 in order to comply with reductions needed to maintain global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Blair noted that student activism did have a role in the Board’s decision.
“Certainly the student activism, and listening to and meeting with SFU 350 contributed to enhancing our thinking on the issues and bringing the issues more to light, more to our attention, making us more aware.”
According to their Facebook page, “SFU350 is a lead organizer of DivestSFU campaign, a coalition of students, faculty, staff, and alumni calling upon SFU’s Board of Governors to realign SFU’s investment practices with its research record and values of sustainability and integrity.” They have been advocating for SFU to divest since 2013.
SFU350 has presented to Board members on multiple occasions and have had several meetings with the Board’s responsible investment committee.
The Peak separately interviewed both Abigail Herd, co-president of SFU350, and Raaj Chatterjee, former co-president and current member of SFU350. While they said that SFU is taking steps in the right direction, they both stated that making investment decisions based on a company’s carbon footprint can be problematic.
Herd and Chatterjee explained that a company’s carbon footprint can sometimes inaccurately portray how much carbon said company emits, because the measure of carbon footprint does not consider all aspects of production and consumption.
“It can lead to investments in an airplane company [ . . . ] instead of solar panels because the manufacturing process for producing solar panels can be more intensive than the manufacturing for producing a plane,” explained Herd.
Herd also provided an example from Policy Options. For coal mining companies, only the carbon emitted in the extraction of the coal counts toward the company’s carbon footprint, and not the carbon emitted in the consumption of the coal.
“The way that financial instrument [carbon footprinting] works allows that to happen.”
However, Blair noted that “We think measuring the carbon footprint of the portfolio and reducing the carbon footprint overall is more effective than divestment [ . . . ] there are other areas other than fossil fuels that contribute to carbon footprint.”
Concordia University and the University of California have both voted to fully divest. UBC has also voted to divest $380 million from its $2 billion endowment fund.
Although UBC is divesting less than 45% of their endowment fund, Herd believes that their decision will make a greater impact than SFU’s.
“I think that is a much stronger route than what SFU has done because they are fully divesting that amount,” said Herd.
Chatterjee noted, “I think it’s really exciting that UBC is going forward with this, because that means that they’ll have all these financial instruments which are fossil free that SFU can also look into investing [ . . . ] it’s really exciting that potentially that SFU could piggyback off this as well.”
When asked if this is an initial step in the direction of 100% in the future, Blair responded no.
“We think it’s more effective to measure the carbon footprint and reduce it overall.”
Chatterjee confirmed that SFU350’s goal remains 100% divestment of all fossil fuel companies.
In terms of the next steps for SFU350, Chaterjee said that they will “continue to support the climate strikes that are going on, and build the interest for SFU students to take action on climate change, not only at the university level, but at the federal level.”
“SFU sees itself as a leader in sustainability [ . . . ] we are concerned with reducing GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions for the university as a whole,” said Blair.