UBC officially declares climate emergency

Dec 6 2019, 11:30 am

Following in the footsteps of municipalities like Vancouver and Surrey, the University of British Columbia (UBC) officially declared a climate emergency this week.

“UBC acknowledges the urgency of the climate crisis and we must directly face the coming challenges,” said UBC President and Vice Chancellor Santa J. Ono.“We appreciate the ongoing commitment of our community to mitigating climate change, especially our students, who have shown their remarkable and commendable leadership to address the most pressing issue of our time.”

With its declaration, UBC said it has committed to establishing a climate emergency community-engagement process with an aim to allow the community to come together “to consider the full scope of our impact and align UBC’s emissions reductions plans with 1.5oC; to embrace the need for a managed decline of fossil fuel use, and a rapid transition to a sustainable economy aligns with UNDRIP; to infuse climate justice throughout our activities, priorities, and decision-making frameworks; and to support community coping and adaptation in the face of climate crisis.”

As part of its action, the UBC Board of Governors formally agreed to the following:

  • Expressed support of divesting the main endowment pool ($1.71 billion) from fossil fuels, and directed administration conduct analysis necessary to support such action;
  • Financial and legal reviews of transferring $380 million of endowed university funds from the main endowment pool to the university’s sustainable future pool;
  • A fossil-free and low-carbon fund established in 2017 to test, validate, and research investment strategies that specifically aim to materially lower carbon emissions and exclude fossil fuels.

The legal and financial reviews of the $380 million transfer are expected to be complete and presented to Board of Governors at their meeting on April 16, 2020.

“UBC’s overall investment in the extractive fossil fuel industry is just over 2% (or $43 million) of the endowment. However, as we look at further reducing this investment, we need to consider a variety of important factors,” said UBC Treasurer Yale Loh.

“These factors, Loh said, “include the most effective ways that UBC can influence companies to pursue more sustainable approaches, mitigating potential penalties for removing investments from pooled funds that contain such extractive fossil fuel industry securities, and identifying appropriate alternative funds that are in keeping with the university’s core fiduciary responsibilities to donors, students, faculty, staff, and alumni.”

Work underway now adds to the university’s Climate Action Plan developed in 2010.

The plan set some of what the university said are North America’s “most aggressive” greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets in 2010.

In 2013, the university adopted its Responsible Investment Policy to direct UBC to consider environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors to make more informed investment decisions for the UBC Endowment.