Queen’s to join University Pension Plan on July 1

Annual university endowment report reveals Queen’s Pension Plan had nearly $100 million of direct investment in fossil fuel industries

The chart shows the numbers of 2019 direct investments in fossil fuel industries.
On July 1, the Queen’s Pension Plan (QPP) will be amalgamated with the University of Toronto and University of Guelph pension plans as a part of the University Pension Plan (UPP). 
The UPP is a jointly sponsored pension plan for university faculty and staff. The plan aims to enhance the long-term sustainability that provides stable predictability for both employees and employers. 
In an interview with The Journal, Marcus Taylor, associate professor and head of the department of Global Development Studies, discussed the UPP and its impacts on moving towards sustainability and the university’s plan in divestment.
“The idea is to have one central management fund to pull all these pension funds together,” Taylor said. 
The UPP has representation from all three universities, including from the employees’ side, Taylor added. The faculty associations of each university will also have representation on UPP’s Board. 
According to Taylor, the shift to UPP could move the university a step closer to sustainability if the new plan has a strong decarbonisation policy and divests money from fossil fuel companies for ethical and financial benefits. This decision, however, is yet to be made
“What we [the UPP] are invested in is not contributing to greenhouse gases in ways that contravene the Paris Agreement, and which contravene the interests of our very students, even their futures,” he added. 
In 2014, the University was asked by Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) to divest through a petition submitted to Principal Daniel Woolf and the Board of Trustees.
Ultimately, the advisory committee’s report concluded that Queen’s had “no grounds for divestment based on their Statement on Responsible Investing policy.” 
According to the Queen’s 2019 Endowment Holdings, the document disclosed that the QPP invested at least $100 million in fossil fuel industries. Holdings included investments in corporations like Enbridge, Canadian Natural Resources, and Suncor Energy. 
On May 11, the UPP had its first feedback session with Queen’s. Those in attendance spoke up on the climate issue and brought forth a universal request for the UPP to divest from fossil fuels. 
During the meeting, it was revealed that the QPP had increased its investments in thermal coal in 2020, totaling to $4,721,038 consistently across 2019 and 2020, Taylor added in an email statement to The Journal. 
Queen’s also invested $2,019,565 in Westshore Terminals Investment Corporation, a company that operates a coal storage and loading terminal in Roberts Bank, British Columbia.
Aside from upholding Queen’s commitment to sustainability, the UPP also offers a better financial position for the university. 
“So many studies are saying that portfolios that have divested from those fossil fuel industries have performed better over the last five to ten years,” Taylor said. 
In 2020, BlackRock, an American multinational investment management corporation, released a report including the depiction of a scenario where firms had divested five years prior.  
“BlackRock did extensive surveys and said there’s three ways you could have divested, and each of them would have had better returns,” Taylor said. 
“If [the University] divested in 2014, the membership would have benefited in the pocket, never mind all the ethical stuff that some of us are interested in,” he added. 
By joining the UPP, Taylor said Queen’s will take a position that many leading universities are already implementing. 
The UPP is also looking into strategizing to decarbonize its portfolio over the next twenty years. 
With the Paris Agreement and the pressure to decarbonize from the government, carbon intensive industries will gradually lose its value, Taylor added. 
“We don’t really want our pensions sat in those industries, so [the UPP] makes perfect financial and ethical sense for universities trying to reach out globally,” Taylor said. 
This article incorrectly confirmed the UPP’s move to divest money from fossil fuels industries. In fact, the UPP has not given a firm indication yet.
The Journal regrets the error.

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