SGPS Council votes to divest

Vote follows months of divided conversations 

SGPS council voted to divest on Jan. 14.
Journal File Photo

Following months of deliberation, SGPS Council voted to relinquish the Society’s investments in oil and gas on Jan. 14. 

The council also voted to sign onto QBACC’s call for Queen’s to divest from fossil fuels. The vote comes after months of Council debates about how the decision would impact graduate students’ future career and research opportunities. 

The Society declined to provide The Journal with a breakdown of its former oil and gas. 

“It was the second or third month in a row that we had discussed and debated the question of divestment because [the discussion] was split into two parts,” SGPS President Jeremy Ambraska said in an interview with The Journal.

Ambraska said the discussion surrounding divestment wasn’t centred on whether the SGPS should withdraw their own investments from fossil fuel companies, but the councillors’ differing opinions about whether the SGPS shouldsupport QBACC’s petition for Queen’s to divest.

“They [SGPS councillors] were just concerned that if Queen’s moves forward with divestment that that may have a negative effect on graduate students specifically at Queen’s,” he said.

In 2019, the University’s investments, donations and corporate-backed research performed collectively made up 10 of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies and contributed over $600,000 dollars in research alone.

“Some students expressed concerns with QBACC’s petition because graduate students are working for fossil fuel companies here at Queen’s and their researches could be related to green technology,” Ambraska said.

QBACC’s petition, which appeals to students, faculty and alumni to add their voice to their call for the University to divest, describes fossil fuel companies and their investors as immoral for profiting off of environmental degradation.

“Students voiced concerns about funding or vilifying unnecessarily fossil fuel companies, and especially affecting the research that engineering student or a chemical engineer would be doing on green technologies,” Ambraska said.

Ambraska added that Canada wasn’t ready to completely give up fossil fuels anytime soon, saying that different communities are affected in different ways.

“It was mentioned briefly by the rector that Indigenous communities for example, or people in northern Canada still rely on fossil fuels for heating and stuff like that,” he said. “Obviously tomorrow Canada’s not ready to go off fossil fuels.”

Ambraska said QBACC did make presentations to the SGPS Council in late fall 2019 to explain what divestment meant, specifically for the University and Canada. He said council conversations may have gotten “stuck in the weeds” about concerns raised by councillors about the definition of a fossil fuel company and what materials were made by fossil fuel companies.

“QBACC was there initially to talk about, in broad strokes again, what they’re asking for the University to do, and then respond to some specific questions about what counts as a fossil fuel.”

Despite differing opinions voiced during council meetings, Ambraska said the SGPS is now focused on adding their voice to the push to encourage Queen’s to tackle climate change.

“I think moving forward, we’re hoping to add another voice to the push and the drive to encourage Queen’s to tackle climate change in the most appropriate way possible,” Ambraska said. “I think there’s an understanding, even amongst students that were more skeptical about it, that climate change is a humongous problem.”

Ambraska said the timeline surrounding SGPS’s divestment from fossil fuels is uncertain. He said the SGPS was not looking to incur penalties by divesting their money before the reinvestment period came around. “The direction, subject to where the incoming executive takes this, would be putting those screens on where we make investments moving forward.”

Ambraska said SGPS President-elect Justine Aman was present at the vote as the director of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and heard the concerns raised in the discussion about divestment.

Aman was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

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