by Rachel Ward
Dalhousie University’s board of governors votes tomorrow on possibly ending its investments in fossil fuel companies. The investment committee will present a recommendation on what to do with around $20-million invested in 35 companies related to coal or oil and gas industries.
Students and community members of Divest Dal have been campaigning for divestiture for over a year. Member Evelien Vanderkloet says the group may have to keep the effort up, even after the board meeting tomorrow.
“I’m not convinced that they’re going to vote yes,” said Vanderkloet at a press event this morning. “We’ve given them everything that they need to say yes, and so for that, they have no reason to say no.”
The group met several times with Dalhousie’s investment committee, submitted three reports and attended board meetings with up to 200 people. Even so, Vanderkloet says she felt the administration had “some reluctance… to hear us through.”
The companies in question fall under the top 200 fossil fuel companies, as ranked by emissions. The divestment movement is active around the world, touted as a way for institutions to make ethical, environmentally responsible decisions and combat climate change. It’s been endorsed by high profile people like Desmond Tutu and Al Gore.
The Dalhousie investments in question make up just over four percent of an endowment portfolio used in part to fund scholarships and research chairs.
Divest Dal last presented a report on October 9, which argues Dalhousie has an ethical responsibility to fight climate change—and this option makes financial sense.
“The massive gap between the carbon budget and the proven carbon reserves creates a very real problem for humanity,” reads the report. “If we burn more carbon than the budget allows, we will end up with a drastically different world than the one we know today.”
An interim report by the investment committee notes that United States schools have fallen on both sides of the argument. A yes vote would make Dalhousie the first Canadian university.
The report weighs Dalhousie’s reputation as a sustainability research leader with how potential funding bodies, such as the provincial government or resource industry companies, would view the university as financially responsible. The interim report makes no recommendations and instead presents a variety of options. Those options will be discussed by board members before tomorrow’s vote. A half hour has been allotted, according to the agenda.
Also on the table tomorrow may be potential conflicts of interest of several board members employed by the coal or oil and gas industries. Member Robert Hanf is the president and CEO of Nova Scotia Power Inc. and Lori MacLean is responsible for communications with Encana Corporation, which oversees the Deep Panuke natural gas project. At least two other members were previously employed in similar areas.
Dalhousie spokesperson Brian Leadbetter told the Halifax Examiner in October that all members will “assess the merits of the information as presented, and make decisions that are in the best interest of the university.”
The board of governors meets Tuesday at 3pm at University Hall in the Macdonald building on Dalhousie’s main campus.