A Call for the University of Waterloo to Divest from Fossil Fuels — and Reinvest in a Just, Climate-Safe Future.
Dear President Hamdullahpur and members of the Board of Governors:
Climate breakdown is intensifying even faster than predicted—and it is driven by increasing fossil fuel use. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed that if we are to prevent global catastrophe with deadly consequences for millions of people and species around the world, we must halve fossil fuel use in ten years and reduce it to nearly zero by 2050.
Therefore, as faculty and staff members of the University of Waterloo we call on you to:
1) divest the University’s endowment and pension plans completely from fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal), and associated infrastructure; and
2) reinvest in socially responsible, low-carbon assets that safeguard investments and—more importantly—our collective future.
Members of our university have been calling for divestment since 2015. In 2016, you rejected divestment and committed instead to align the University’s investment decisions around environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria. Yet the university continues to invest tens of millions of dollars in fossil fuels. This must end.
Our students have called on us to act—notably those from the Fossil Free UW group and others who support their vision. The next generations face a future of mass extinction, food scarcity, flooding, lethal heat, superstorms, and acidified oceans that will have widespread human health and economic impacts. Moreover, the consequences of the climate crisis will aggravate systemic inequalities experienced by people here in our region, throughout Canada, and around the world. We have a responsibility to work with our students for bold and just climate action.
Divestment is also a financial imperative. Mark Carney, outgoing Governor of the Bank of England and former Governor of the Bank of Canada, recently emphasized that up to half of the world’s oil and gas reserves and most of its coal reserves stand to become stranded assets—“worthless” investments. BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager (US$7 trillion in value), announced in January that it would abandon investments posing climate risks, warning that climate change is causing a "fundamental reshaping of finance." More recently, the COVID crisis has exposed the peril of fossil fuel investments, as oil prices sunk below zero. No longer can we claim that divesting is against fiduciary duty: indeed, we cannot risk our investments on a sector in decline.
Investing in fossil fuels now poses a reputational risk as well. The tally of universities divesting grows every month in Canada and around the world. Most recently, the University of Guelph committed to divestment to enact its commitment to sustainability in May 2020. Queen's University's Board of Trustees voted to begin reducing the carbon intensity of its endowment fund investments in March 2020. This followed on the University of British Columbia’s Board of Governors unanimously resolving to act immediately to divest its endowment fund from fossil fuels in December 2019, a decision inspired by similar actions at Laval University, the Université du Québec à Montréal, and Concordia University. Half of the universities in the UK have committed to divest and divestment is spreading rapidly across US campuses: last year, the University of California system ended its fossil fuel investments citing financial risk, while Harvard University faculty voted overwhelmingly for divestment.
Our university community is committed to taking a lead role in addressing the changing realities of our society, climate, and economy. Divesting from fossil fuels and investing in a just, climate-safe future aligns with our values.
The University of Waterloo has delayed for far too long. We must divest.
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