Following a push from students and campus groups, the University has launched discussions on fossil fuel divestment.
In last week’s AMS winter referendum, 4,127 students — or 73.5 per cent of voters — voted in favour of the AMS assessing the feasibility of divestment from fossil fuels from its Restricted Funds portfolio and the Queen’s University Pooled Endowment Fund. 1,488 students, or 26.5 per cent, voted against.
“Because students have given us such a strong mandate, we will be definitely looking into feasibility of fossil fuel divestment,” said Tuba Chishti, the student representative on the Board of Trustees Advisory Committee on Fossil Fuel Divestment.
Chishti, ArtSci ’15, said she couldn’t discuss specifics about the committee because of the confidential nature of the University’s financial investments, but added that the committee has to consider various factors that would be affected by divestment before making any decisions.
She said the committee will create a website within the next two weeks to keep the public informed on its progress.
The committee, which was struck in late December, plans to present an official report to the University Board of Trustees by June in order for the Board to make a decision before the next fiscal year.
The referendum question also addressed the AMS Restricted Funds portfolio, which is a separate issue from the University’s Pooled Endowment Fund.
Chishti, who chairs the AMS Board of Directors, said the Board has yet to hold a meeting discussing divestment.
The push to divest from fossil fuels began before the referendum question was proposed to students, when Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) presented a formal proposal to Principal Daniel Woolf and the University Board of Trustees.
The proposal contained a petition of roughly 500 student, faculty and alumni signatures requesting the divestment of fossil fuels in the interest of avoiding social injury to agriculture, Aboriginal land rights and climate change.
“We didn’t want to be too aggressive with it at first,” said Emily Graham, co-president of QBACC. “We wanted to see what the Board would think.”
QBACC organized a march on the last day of classes in November, starting at Summerhill and marching to Richardson Hall, to present the proposal to the Board.
The main purpose of the march was to raise awareness of the issue, said Graham, ArtSci ’15.
She said Principal Woolf was busy when the march ended, but he did email the group back thanking them for their hard work.
“We still want to keep the pressure on them,” Graham said, adding that she’d like to see an update from the committee soon, since the global fossil fuel divestment movement has started to gain more attention.
She said QBACC will be creating social media “buzz” on Feb. 12 for Global Divestment Day.
She added that the group plans to have a “visual action” sometime in the afternoon in the ARC to show solidarity with the global movement.
Even with the success of the referendum question, Graham said she’s still skeptical the University will take action.
With seven QBACC organizers graduating at the end of this year — the majority of its organizers — Graham said their main focus this semester is to find passionate individuals to pass the torch to, so that this issue isn’t forgotten in coming years.
“Our reason for it and what we need to prove is the social action side of it,” she said.
“It’s the only reason I need to fight for it. But there’s the financial reason, too — that could persuade people.”
David Allgood, who chairs the Advisory Committee on Responsible Investing, told the Journal via email that the committee was established by Woolf in accordance with the University’s Statement on Responsible Investing in order to examine QBACC’s divestment request.
“Over the coming months, the committee will carefully consider QBACC’s submission and will consult broadly, both within and outside of the university community,” Allgood said.
“It aims to make recommendations to the Principal regarding what actions, if any, should be taken in response to the request by June 30.”
He added that a website will “soon be created” for the committee and that the committee only recently held its first meeting.
“There is still a great deal of information to consider and many stakeholders that we want to hear from,” he said.
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