Oil sands north of Fort McMurray, Alberta. Jack Fisher/Defunct Mayhem

Twitter thread: University of Guelph divests from Fossil Fuel

This article is a transcription of the live-twitter-thread from the University of Guelph Board of Governors meeting on April 22 2020.

This article is a transcription of the live-twitter-thread from the University of Guelph Board of Governors meeting on April 22 2020.
The original Twitter thread can be found here:

Thread unrolled with the ThreadReader App.

Alright Twitter, we’re back on this.
We’re listening to the #UofG Board of Governors meeting where they will be voting on the finance committee’s plan to divest money in the endowment fund from fossil fuel companies.
Motion on page 13: uoguelph.civicweb.net/Portal/Meeting…


The meeting has not started yet, but the public phone line is operational.
Board members are beginning to join the meeting.
As with so many other online meeting services, not everyone has a clear connection and some audio is bound to be choppy for listeners.

The public is listening via a listen-only phone line that needed to be applied to early. It seems the board is using a video conference software and can also see each other.
They cannot use the private chat function between members but can message secretariat staff. 

1:18pm, welcome has started. I believe this is the official meeting start. #UofGDivests
It sounds like several Fossil Free Guelph members are present in the WebX meeting. And it’s acknowledged that many more are listening in.

There is a strong delay. As roll call is being taken, listeners can hear the responses, but it appears it’s difficult for others.
Every time a person joins the meeting, the sound dominates the whole call. 

Following approval of the agenda and a little bit of shuffling. The meeting has moved into the President’s report.
President Franco Vaccarino is outlining the many changes the University has made to deal with the social distancing measures. 

Vaccarino says that the Council of Universities lobbied the minister of MTCU to postpone the SMA3. And the previous deadline for implementation has been pushed back.

Vaccarino says Universities are working with Immigration Canada to support international students. Including letting int’l students study online without it impacting their student permit. 

The meeting is moving on to page 13 and the divestment motion. #UofGDivests
Opening remarks will proceed the discussion. 

comments note: After the proposal was changed in 2019 to simply complete a review over two years, the University became a signatory on the UN Principals for Responsible Investing group and have done a review of the endowment investments. #UofGDivests 

This means that the University has determined that divesting from fossil fuel businesses in the endowment fund, they will not lose the return on investment.
“The impact on the portfolio is unlikely to be negative” #UofGDivests 

The reason the plan is to divest over five years is for safety. “If [divestment] is done in a reasonable and measured way, there is unlikely to be negative impacts” on the financial portfolio. #UofGDivests 

I’ll note, for the uninitiated, it’s not entirely clear who is speaking. Unattributed quotes will be kept to a minimum from here on out. 

To sum up, buoyed by the success of the reduction of the carbon footprint of campus, the finance committee deemed it reasonable to move forward with divestment with an eye on climate harm reduction. #UofGDivests 

Vaccarino notes this is part of a “broader conversation” about climate-related issues. He notes some countries are working towards divestment, and that UBC and Concordia have also pursued divestment. #UofGDivests 

Vaccarino notes that the “agricultural community supports environmental stewardship,” and that in consultation with food-ag leaders on campus, they are in support of the divestment action with a lens on alternative-energy sources. #UofGDivests 

VP Finance Don O’Leary is going to attempt to answer the question “why now?” #UofGDivests 

O’Leary says they are happy to recommend this motion now, and that the committee is confident about the endowment ROI. #UofGDivests 

O’Leary says a portfolio without fossil fuel could have as good or better return on investment than one with fossil fuel. #UofGDivests 

O’Leary says they are taking the carbon reduction goal seriously. And notes that the money in question is only 7% of the endowment money. #UofGDivests 

Megan from Fossil Free Guelph is asked to make a statement (her last name is not listed on the agenda). Unfortunately, for those of us listening, we could not hear what she said due to a bad connection. #UofGDivests 

Gabrielle from Fossil Free Guelph is now making her statement. Echoing all of the financial and environmental arguments FFG has been advocating for. #UofGDivests
Their petition can be found here:
Divest University of Guelph Endowments from Fossil Fuel InvestmentsClimate change is no longer a future state. It’s here and accelerating. We are witnessing the increasing global impacts of a warming planet more and more consistently. Just in the last few years, extr…https://campaigns.gofossilfree.org/petitions/divest-university-of-guelph-from-fossil-fuels

Sarah-Anne from FFG is speaking. She says the university has a responsibility to the future.
“COVID-19 has shown us how adaptable we can be to change.” #UofGDivests 

She says “we see this as a seven-year love letter to Guelph” #UofGDivests 

The FFG members are thanked for their advocacy and the question period is opened. #UofGDivests 

Eleanor Fritz asks if divesting would mean divesting from service industries too, and if that’s responsible.
O’Leary responds and says “no,” this is a motion to divest from the energy source. #UofGDivests 

O’Leary notes that divesting from the source of carbon pollution, it will hopefully impact other industries in positive ways. #UofGDivests 

Fritz is worried about the Univerity looking “greenwashed” and says they need to make a full “moral commitment.” She asks a hypothetical along the lines of: What if an O&G company started producing green energy? Would they reinvest? #UofGDivests 

O’Leary: “It depends”
He says regardless of the specific example, the fund managers and investment committee will make responsible choices. #UofGDivests 

Carol Poulsen notes there are industries that have been pushing the climate agenda. and asks if the committee is interesting in looking at “impact investing.” #UofGDivests 

O’Leary says “yes.” #UofGDivests 

Question: can the responsible investment be done in a shorter period than five years? #UofGDivests
O’Leary: While there are some investments locked for a period of time, the short answer is “yes”. 

O’Leary adds some changes could be made within a few months. And in a few months, the #UofG could reduce fossil fuel investment significantly, barring the locked investments. #UofGDivests 

Garrit Bos notes that he has made the decision to vote against the motion. for three reasons.
1. It doesn’t reflect the initial protest.
2. Because of the Canadian economy.
3. Due to behaviour of some activists, mentioning the protest from early March. #UofGDivests 

Fritz wants to ask “carbon free guelph” what they think about the potential of funding O&G if those companies were funding green initiatives. #UofGDivests 

Gen Gauthier-Chalifour notes that it is probably a question for O’Leary,but that it “depends.” Suggests leaving this conversation to a later date. #UofGDivests 

Gabrielle (again, no listed last name), says that’s not really the conversation the board is voting on. But would prefer, above anything, that oil be left in the ground. #UofGDivests 

O’Leary says if people have suggestions for investment, to let the committee know because there will be a lot to look at. #UofGDivests

 Fritz notes that while the motion is framed in a corporate structure, the decision is really about intent. #UofGDivests 

Bos dropped off the call just as he got to his third point, and has rejoined the call. To add to his third point he says he thinks some students are articulate, but some activists are not – like the signs at the last board meeting #UofGDivests 

Martha Billes says she supports Bos’ points.
She is worried about the Canadian oil patch.
“Eastern Canada has not been loyal to the west, the west has been loyal to Canada.” #UofGDivests 

Billes says she supports sustainability, but “we’re not there yet.” She finds this conversation “untenable” because the O&G has paid the university’s bills for many years. #UofGDivests 

Megan from FFG responds to the comments, but cannot be heard over the phone – it sounds like people in the meeting can hear her on WebX.
*sigh* Technology. 

Megan throws it to Gabrielle.
G notes that protests are not the way they always wish to push the message, but protest actions lead to the kind of conversations they are having now. #UofGDivests 

G notes the importance of the Canadian O&G industry in the past, but says this is an important transition for the future. She says there are faculty on campus working at helping transition O&G workers if need be. #UofGDivests 

Gabrielle notes that this isn’t a question of “bad or good,” but the conversation is about the environment. #UofGDivests 

Gauthier-Chalifour asks O’Leary what this means practically.
O’Leary says it’s not a large number, and adds that most of the Oil & Gas investment the University has is not in Canadian O&G. #UofGDivests 

A voice I do not recognize notes that this is the direction that the industry, and investment managers, are moving anyway.
O’Leary says, yes, we may be talking about this, but it’s in line with investors.

Prashant Pathak says it’s not just an oil and gas issue, but wants to make sure they’re not “greenwashing” and that there are other businesses that also cause environmental damage. (like Lithium mining)

Pathak uses Tesla as an example of a greenwashed company that has caused environmental harm in Bolivia.
Worried about “bashing” the fossil fuel industry. #UofGDivests 

Gauthier-Chalifour says “yes” this is just a small statement, but the next steps are looking at other industries and other issues. There will be more time spent on sustainability going forward.

Nancy and Byron move and second the motion on page 13.

Pathak notes he wants a clause to look at all industries and ESG before voting yes.
He is told, yes, the University has made that commitment to look at all investments with an ESG lens. #UofGDivests 

Gauthier-Chalifour suggests an amendment to note this is in addition to the previous commitments the University has already made.
Nancy Brown Andison says this is an agreeable amendment.

Byron Sheldrick is agreeable.
Pathak says it’s not just a fossil fuel problem, and wants students to know that.

Fritz is concerned about the statement “complete divestment” without giving companies the chance to transition their business away from O&G. #UofGDivests 

O’Leary says the committee will consider green projects that fund carbon reduction.
Fritz wants to add a clause to note that the investment subcommittee can consider projects that support a sustainable economy. #UofGDivests 

This would allow investments to remain in companies that work in O&G, but have ongoing green projects – Jack 

Gauthier-Chalifour notes that this is within the purview of the investment committee.
Fritz notes it’s important to consider the greater good of society. #UofGDivests 

Brown Andison and Sheldrick conceded the amendments.

No votes must be noted: Billes, Bos, Stark.

Stark notes the amendments made her vote a “no.”

Motion carried

#UofGDivests This is the end of the thread on the divestment vote, but the Board of Governors meeting will continue. 

Written by
Jack Fisher

Jack Fisher is an independent journalist. He holds a BAH from the University of Guelph, and a post-graduate certificate from Sheridan College in journalism.
@Jack_Fisher_4 on Twitter and Instagram

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Written by Jack Fisher