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On Monday, the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) became the first Canadian university to commit to fossil fuel divestment.
The decision was made by the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors and included a mandate to develop a strategy for shifting investments in fossil fuels towards investments in alternative energy and clean technologies.
“uOttawa has achieved something historic as the first Canadian university to commit to divestment from fossil fuel companies,” said Megan Bowers, a Fossil Free uOttawa organizer in a statement. “This sets the stage for other Canadian Universities and society at large to move towards a post-carbon future. We are on the right side of history, and are truly ‘defying the conventional.'”
Several Canadian university student groups have pushed for divestment at their schools, which has been rejected or refused by the school’s administration — most notably at Dalhousie, Queen’s, UBC, U of T and McGill.
The uOttawa university Board’s Finance and Treasury Committee has been considering divestment for the past 18 months, and its review process included hearing from advocates for the divestment movement, reviewing the university’s current and proposed investment policies, examining best practices elsewhere and hearing from public discussion panels that included the participation of academics, researchers, students and other experts.
Following this process, the Committee reported on responsible investment and finding solutions to climate change through the university’s research, teaching and ongoing efforts to reduce the campus’ carbon footprint.
However, the Board rejected the idea of divestment on its own, and instead, has responded with a request to shift towards investing in alternative energy.
“The Executive Committee recognizes that universities can make a unique contribution to the global movement away from carbon and towards a sustainable economy,” the response states. “In our case, research at uOttawa is accelerating the development of low carbon technologies that are the key to ending the use of fossil fuels. This research holds the potential for an impact far greater than might be achieved by ‘divestment.'”
Fossil Free uOttawa, an on-campus group that has been campaigning for over three years for the university to divest, was thrilled with the outcome and intends to push the university to commit to a clear timeline for its divestment.
“uOttawa has made a smart financial and ethical decision that will make a real difference in the fight against climate change,” said one of the group’s organizers, Geoff Carter. “Today I’m proud to be a University of Ottawa student.”
To support the divestment movement within Canadian universities, visit Fossil Free Canada to take a pledge or learn more about university-specific campaigns.
Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen’s University and is excited by media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen’s News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer. She is now rabble’s News Intern.