McGill, News

McGill divests direct holdings from Carbon Underground 200 fossil fuel companies

On Dec. 14, the McGill Board of Governors (BoG) voted to divest from all direct holdings in Carbon Underground (CU) 200 fossil fuel companies, which currently constitute 0.5 per cent of total McGill Investment Pool (MIP) holdings as of December 2022. CU 200 companies include the world’s top 200 coal, oil, and gas reserve owners, ranked by the carbon emissions content of their reported reserves. Divestment will be implemented in 2024, and completed in 2025. This comes after 12 years of student and faculty mobilization, primarily through Divest McGill

Zahur Ashrafuzzaman, BA ’23, a former member of Divest McGill, explained the work that the student group has done in the past decade to advocate for divestment in an interview with The Tribune. They shared that since its founding in 2012, the group has organized highly publicized events at the university, submitted extensively researched briefs to the BoG, and circulated petitions.

“It’s been a long time coming [….] It further validates the importance of all the work everyone has been doing over the past decade. It’s beautiful to see,” Ashrafuzzaman said. “It is a community effort from everyone involved, for so many years, so many graduation cycles.” 

Another member of Divest McGill, Lola Milder, U3 Science, shared that the divestment came after the group’s September 2023 presentation to the BoG, where BoG members committed to voting on divestment by December 2023. While Milder shared that she was excited by the decision, she expressed a sense of ambivalence surrounding whether McGill would follow through on this commitment. 

“I think we’ve seen so many other universities across Canada commit to divestment, but then fall short of their commitments, like Concordia, which had to renew their commitment last year because they were basically sitting idle on their commitment to divest,” Milder said. 

Divestment was one of eight commitments approved by the BoG, with another initiative consisting of allocating ten per cent of the MIP to sustainable investment strategies as per United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. McGill media relations officer Frédérique Mazerolle described this action as the most important out of all of McGill’s commitments. 

“We are moving from investing five5 per cent of our portfolio in sustainable investments to 10 per cent. These are investments that advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which address not only climate change, but such goals as alleviating poverty and advancing sustainability—we are furthering our steps in tackling global challenges,” Mazerolle wrote.

Darin Barney, a professor in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies, was a member of the BoG from 2017-2019 and resigned from his position as governor in 2019 in protest of the BoG’s handling of Divest McGill’s petition to the Board to divest from its endowment in fossil-fuel companies. While Barney celebrated the BoG’s decision to divest, he highlighted the need for McGill to divest from the remaining 0.4 per cent of indirect holdings in fossil fuel companies.

“Beyond that, McGill should continue and intensify its efforts to decarbonize the operations of the University in all it dimensions, including by providing enhanced material support and recognition for low-carbon scholarly practices in research, publication, teaching and administration,” Barney wrote in an email to The Tribune

Greg Mikkelson, an ex-professor at McGill who resigned over the university’s lack of divestment in 2020, called for McGill to lobby their peers at other universities to likewise cut their ties with oil and gas companies. He also asserted that the university needs a stronger democratic representation of students and staff on its BoG. 

“The fact that McGill’s corporate-dominated board took so long to go along with divestment—despite overwhelming support on campus from students, faculty, and staff—cries out for a democratic overhaul of that board,” Mikkelson said in a written statement to The Tribune

Ashrafuzzaman also expressed hope that the fossil-fuel divestment will inspire McGill to divest from other socially unjust endowments, including companies that support the Israeli state. 

“What comes to mind is investments in companies that support the Israeli occupation and apartheid in Palestine. McGill is invested heavily into companies like Lockheed Martin […] and various other companies that are heavily implicated in the ongoing genocide,” Ashrafuzzaman said. 

Divest McGill plans to bring together students, staff, and alumni to celebrate the divestment. A date has not yet been decided.

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