University of Waterloo asked to end fossil fuel investments

Students in the University of Waterloo's environment faculty are calling on the school to stop investing in fossil fuel companies.

Environment students to address board of governors Tuesday

Rising tensions between Saudi Arabia and Canada are having swift consequences for students in Waterloo region. (Brian St. Denis/CBC)

Environment students at the University of Waterloo are calling on the school to put a stop to its investments in the world's top fossil fuel companies. 

The motion, put forward by the student group Fossil Free UW, wants the school to discontinue endowment and pension funding in 200 fossil fuel companies globally. 

Every time they pay tuition, environment students contribute $30 to Waterloo Environment Students Endowment Fund, which funds student-proposed projects within the faculty.

"It's their money and they feel they should have some say in how our money is invested," graduate student and Fossil Free UW organizer Yonatan Strauch told CBC News. 

Strauch said stopping support for fossil fuel companies is especially important now following December's Paris climate agreement, which saw 200 nations pledge to cut global warming "to well below 2 degrees C" and achieve a carbon-neutral world after 2050.

At that conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada plans to move towards a "climate resilient economy."

Letter signed by faculty

In November, environment students who attended the annual WESEF general meeting voted unanimously, 50-0, to ask the school not to invest their tuition money into fossil fuel companies.

But the students are not alone. On Monday, faculty members from a range of university departments issued their own call to the board of governors asking the school to  "embrace its moral and fiduciary duty" and divest itself of fossil fuels.

"The financial rationale for divestment is clear," reads the letter, signed by 63 faculty members. "To avoid catastrophic climate impacts, warming must be kept below 2 degree Celsius, which means that most fossil fuels reserves must never be burned."

Not only is investing in fossil fuels hurting the environment, the letter argues, it also promises little financial return. "Fossil fuel investments will become stranded assets with little value."

Others have divested

If the university divests from fossil fuels, it would join others including Stanford University in California, which discontinued its support for companies mining coal for energy in 2014.

German-based asset management company Allianz announced it would no longer invest in companies using coal in November, and would seek out investment opportunities with renewable energy companies.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters at the COP21 in Paris that several provinces in Canada has already made 'serious' commitments to fight climate change. (CBC)

Strauch will be addressing the university's board of governors during their meeting Tuesday afternoon and says his group is confident their vote reflects what students in the faculty of environment want.

"We know that to stay at two degrees, about two-thirds of fossil fuel reserves that are on the books at companies can never be burned," Strauch said.

"Either those are terrible investments and we should get out of them because we're going to protect the climate or they're good investments because we're going to destroy the climate."


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