British Columbia

Students end hunger strike after UBC clarifies position on divestment from fossil fuels

A group of students ended a 100-hour hunger strike Friday after the University of British Columbia assured them it will fully divest its $1.7 billion endowment fund of fossil fuel investments.

Students began fast on Monday, saying UBC's 'support' for divestment didn't go far enough

Emma Pham, 20, was on a hunger strike from Monday to Friday. Pham is part of UBC’s chapter of the climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, which pressured the school to promise to fully divest from fossil fuel companies in its $1.7-billion endowment fund. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

A group of students ended a 100-hour hunger strike Friday after the University of British Columbia assured them it will fully divest its $1.7 billion endowment fund of fossil fuel investments.

The eight students, all members of climate advocacy group Extinction Rebellion UBC, began the strike on Monday.

In December, the university's board of governors passed a resolution supporting divestment of its endowment fund from the fossil fuel industry.

Morgan Cox, a 19-year-old student, said he participated in the hunger strike because the university's commitment to "support" divestment didn't go far enough.

"They didn't actually commit to anything," he said. "They expressed that they would start to look into and consider looking into a commitment for full divestment. There was no actual commitment on their part."

The students held the hunger strike because they wanted to force UBC to offer a stronger commitment to divest, regardless of the potential implications to profit, Cox said.

He said the students fear for the future as climate change worsens, and that they expect the university to play its part in mitigating its contributions to the problem. 

"Within a few years, if nothing is done, it's not just going to be eight of us that are starving by choice," Cox said.

"It's going to be thousands of people without a choice who are starving because food would be so scarce or so expensive that more and more people wouldn't have access to it."

In a statement Friday, UBC president Santa Ono acknowledged the pressing urgency to address climate change, saying the continued operation of the fossil fuel industry is "discordant" with a future safe from climate change. 

"UBC is committed to full divestment as soon as possible, and we are taking the necessary steps to realize this now," Ono said.

In a separate statement, UBC vice-president of students Ainsley Carry said the university will ensure it keeps the community up to date on actions being taken in regards to sustainability and climate action. 

"We are pleased that earlier today the students chose to end their hunger strike following our agreement to ensure that our community and the public is informed of the actions the university is taking as a leader in sustainability and climate action," Carry said. 

In a statement of their own, Extinction Rebellion UBC called the university's announcement a "modest step in the right direction." It said it needs to use its endowment to invest in a sustainable economy and become carbon neutral.

Cox, who broke his fast Friday with butternut squash and miso soup, said the students will continue to hold the university to account.

"Right toward the end, our demands were met," he said.

"All things considered, we are pretty satisfied at this point."

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