Activists celebrate passage of new climate measures

Recommendations passed Friday will move Queen’s towards sustainable investment

QBACC confident the University is taking tangible action towards sustainability.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

On Friday, the Board of Trustees passed the final recommendations set out by the Climate Change Task Force, including a pledge to reduce the carbon intensity of the University’s oil and gas investments.

The Task Force was formed in December 2019, after the Board heard a presentation by Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC), in which the environmentalist group urged the University to divest. December marked QBACC’s second time at Board, following an initial presentation of demands to the Trustees in September.

With Friday’s passage of the new recommendations, however, QBACC is confident the University has heard their requests and is taking tangible action.

“It’s been a long process,” QBACC President Nick Lorraway, ArtSci ’20, told The Journal. “There’s been back and forth about what’s possible and what’s not possible.”

The final recommendations, published last month, are listed under three broad categories.

The first category relates to the Institute for Sustainable Finance (ISF). Under the new recommendations, as per QBACC’s requests in December, the ISF will implement a screening process for companies that makes sure companies are reducing their carbon intensity over time.

The ISF will “survey existing and potentially research other appropriate measures of exposure to carbon emissions embedded in its portfolios,” and then set sustainable targets.

The second category promises that Queen’s will look for investments that emphasize the transition to a lower-carbon economy, and allocate endowment capital to those investment opportunities. The University will now allow donors to directly donate to these sustainable investments.

The last category pledges to increase the transparency of Queen’s finances and investments, making more information on investments, particularly relating to renewable energy or sustainability, more public than is currently in practice.

“What we got on Friday is a commitment by the University to reduce the carbon intensity of the entire fund. The Board is going to start setting progressive targets; it’s progressively getting larger and larger over time to reduce the carbon intensity of the fund,” Lorraway said. “That means that high polluting companies are going to be divested from.”

“There’s no concrete targets yet because those will take time to develop,” Sam Green, ArtSci ’20 and divestment outreach executive on QBACC, told The Journal. “We’re going to continue to make sure there are student eyes on what the Board is doing.”

Lorraway said he’s excited that Queen’s is sending a message to the business community. “This is shooting a flare up, saying that if you don’t reduce your emissions, then we’re going to pull our money.”

He emphasized the speed at which the Board has made these recommendations. “They made this committee and decided that these were the targets within six weeks. The Board usually takes two years to do anything.”

Green echoed this statement. “It is so encouraging they all see the urgency of climate change,” she said.

Lorraway, Green, and QBACC are now looking to the future. “We’re looking for a target similar to campus carbon reduction targets, which is carbon neutral by 2040.”

They plan to continue to hold the University to account. “Hopefully, they put their money where their mouth is,” Green said. “We’re going to keep pressing into it. But it’s really great they’ve put this into policy, so everyone can see this is what they’re working towards, and hold their feet to the fire.”

Moving forward, Green and Lorraway said they believe advocacy efforts will be easier after this. “Campaigning for Queen’s to accept more aggressive targets is a hell of a lot easier than campaigning for them to set targets in the first place,” Lorraway said.

Lorraway is proud of the relationship formed around the climate crisis between QBACC, the Board, and the Queen’s community. “The outstanding response from the Board is unprecedented,” Lorraway said. “Even [Patrick] Deane said he’s never seen a Board this united around an issue, the same way we’ve never seen campus this united around an issue.”

QBACC plans to celebrate this victory before getting back to work. “It is incredibly clear that this is the victory. This is the total success that we wanted, and it deserves to be celebrated. It’s something Queen’s should be very proud of.”

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