Op-Eds and Letters
The Martlet, November 2019: Vote on potential divestment from short-term fossil fuel investments moved to January
The Martlet, February 2019: Divest UVic: It’s time to break up with fossil fuels
The Tyee, November 2017: UVic Seeks to Profit from Corporate Climate Change Deniers
The Tyee, February 2015: Is Petro-Divestment Too Divisive?
Faculty for Divestment 2015 Open Letter
The Tyee, June 2014: Why the Petro-Divestment Movement is Unstoppable
Faculty for Divestment: 2014 Open Letter
Frequently Asked Questions
Who are you?
Divest UVic is a group of UVic students, faculty, and staff who believe that it is immoral and economically irresponsible to invest in the destruction of our climate, lands, and livelihoods.
What are you asking for?
We are asking for UVic to immediately freeze any further investments in fossil fuel companies, and divest from all existing fossil fuel holdings within three years.
How much does UVic currently have invested in the fossil fuel industry?
As of 2017 the UVic endowment fund has $39.72 million invested in the fossil fuel industry.
What is divestment?
Divestment is the withdrawal of money invested in a company or country. It is the opposite of investment. For Divest UVic, divestment is the transfer of the endowment money invested in fossil fuel companies to non-fossil fuel companies.
What is the UVic endowment?
The endowment is a collection of investments, money, and assets donated to the university over the last 50 years. Income earned from the endowment helps fund UVic. This income funds many student scholarships and bursaries, research, and other programs.
Who controls the endowment?
The University of Victoria foundation board of directors establishes policy for the endowment and hires consultants to do the day to day work. These consultants include a trio of fund management corporations, overseen by an investment management consultant.
Where Will UVic reinvest the money?
Generally when institutions divest (e.g. from cigarette companies) they gradually redistribute that money into all the other companies they’re invested in. They likely will also add some new investments to maintain the diversification of their portfolio. We would like to see UVic consider the growing renewable energy market as an opportunity to diversify. However, we’ll leave specific choices of companies to investment professionals.
Will divestment hurt the income UVic earns from its endowment?
No, there are many opportunities in the market for an endowment to make equivalent or better returns. A study by S&P Capital IQ found that if universities had divested 10 years ago from the stocks recommended by Fossil Free, their endowments would be even larger than they are now. A study by the Aperio Group (an investment management firm) shows that fossil fuel divestment would have a miniscule (0.0034%) impact on returns. There are also increasing concerns about a “carbon bubble,” that the business model that provides the basis for the fossil fuel industries’ current value is unsustainable because much of their wealth is built on fossil fuel reserves that can’t be used if we are to maintain a safe climate. The International Energy Agency, not a radical organization, states that we must keep 66% of known fossil fuel reserves below ground to avoid catastrophic climate change. Let’s say that one more time: 66%.
Will divestment hurt the university’s ability to raise money, including in research on sustainability?
We do not anticipate divestment will hurt the university. Demonstrating a strong commitment to sustainability and becoming a leader in combating climate change can help UVic attract additional donations and funding. Additionally, as UVic’s investments in fossil fuels attracts more attention, we expect UVic alumni, who are key donors, to begin to hold back their donations until UVic agrees to divest.
How would divestment work when such a large fraction of investments are in funds in which fossil fuel companies are only one component?
Fossil fuel free funds already exist for individual consumers like you and me. More importantly, nine universities and countless cities, counties, foundations, and religious institutions have committed to divest – demonstrating they believe fossil fuel divestment is possible for co-mingled institutional funds.. In addition, when large investors such as university endowments express a desire for fossil-fuel free funds, the financial management companies we hire will respond to offer more such funds. In this way UVic and other large investors can wield their influence to open up sustainable investment options.
Why would companies care if UVic divests from fossil fuels?
Divestment reduces a company’s stock price, making it harder for them to obtain credit and fund further investments in fossil fuel infrastructure. More importantly, divestment strikes a blow to fossil fuels companies’ reputations as necessary economic pillars. Divestment starts a conversation about the climate crisis in a bold way that forces people to listen.
UVic already has a responsible investment strategy. Why isn’t that sufficient?
UVic does have a policy, but it is too vague to provide meaningful guidance on issues of environmental sustainability, and doesn’t require a fund manager to do anything specific to be considered a responsible investor besides minor reporting requirements. Finally, UVic has made it clear that maintaining investment in fossil fuel companies is consistent with their guidelines.
How do you define a fossil fuel company? Don’t many fossil fuel companies also invest in renewable energy?
By fossil fuel company we mean a company in which the majority of their revenues come from the direct extraction, refinement, or transportation of fossil fuels. While many fossil fuel companies do invest in renewable energy, almost all energy companies can be easily classified as predominantly fossil fuel or alternative energy. Fossil companies have clearly been the majority drivers of global carbon emissions.
Why focus on university divestment?
Wouldn’t it be more effective to advocate for policy change like stronger government policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Focusing on divestment is not a replacement for advocating for more effective policies. We support those as well and many of our members also work on those campaigns. Divestment is a call to action on climate change, a statement that we can change things for the better, and a demonstration of commitment to change by putting UVic’s wealth towards clean energy instead of more fossil fuels. It’s a way to start conversations that people pay attention to.
Can universities really make a difference by divesting?
Yes! A single divestment campaign won’t make a difference; that’s why we’re part of over 300 fossil fuel divestment campaigns across North America from Harvard down to small colleges. Divestment efforts were a major factor in building the international campaign that brought about an end to apartheid in South Africa.
Fossil fuels are legal to produce, and are inextricably linked to all of our lives. Why are you stigmatizing them by advocating divestment?
Fossil fuels have done amazing things and continue to help many people, but they have hidden costs. People on the front lines of extraction, historically often people of colour, indigenous people, people in poverty, and other marginalized groups, have born these costs for years. We are entering an age when these costs are hitting us all. They hit in the form of floods, hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, and heat waves. We are advocating a shift to a clean energy economy, something economists and engineers have called achievable, practical, and needed. Divestment is a step we can all take towards this.
Isn’t it difficult, as the university argues, to divest from fossil fuel industries?
We recognize that there are challenges given the current structure of pooled funds. This is why we call on the university to divest over 3 years, allowing the university and fund managers plenty of time to reallocate its investments to profitable fossil-free funds.
Will divestment from the Canadian energy sector push investment out of Canada?
We are not calling for divestment from the Canadian energy sector; indeed, we encourage investment in clean energy companies. Divestment does not require shifting investment to areas with questionable social or environmental records.