Social media has been in a bit of a frenzy since the University of Ottawa’s Board of Governors made a decision concerning divestment. Sometimes when you get what you want, it’s never quite the way you want it. Which is why you might have read in the media that uOttawa did not commit to divestment at its Board of Governors meeting this week, or not exactly. And amid the fear-mongering about the risks of divestment by media and several other large Canadian universities, it is understandable why our institution hasn’t used our language. We thought we’d clarify what went down, because language aside, we actually think that uOttawa’s decision is consistent with the principles of divestment, and that is cause for celebration.
Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the report of Finance and Treasury Committee (FTC) did not recommend divestment. However, the resolution put forth by the Executive Committee ― and approved at the Board meeting ― takes a different position. While acknowledging the FTC report, the resolution further asks the FTC to:
“Prepare a strategy that will shift uOttawa’s fossil fuel-related investments towards investments in enterprises, and especially those in Canada, involved in creating and selling technologies of the future, including renewable energy and other clean technology solutions.”
Shifting investments away from fossil fuels is the textbook definition of divestment; the university is just choosing not to use our language. Even better, the decision to shift those investments into the renewable energy and clean technology sectors shows a commitment to the kind of reinvestment strategy required to transition to a renewable energy economy.
It’s also important to note that the University of Ottawa committed to use not just its investments, but all of its institutional assets in the fight against climate change. This includes funding research related to clean technologies and other energy solutions as well as reducing the carbon footprint of the facilities on campus.This is a strong statement that we are fully behind.
What does this mean for the Canadian divestment movement?
The University of Ottawa’s decision to become the first Canadian post-secondary institution to commit to divestment is a win for the divestment movement and could have big implications. We hope that we’ve created a wedge ― space to open up a conversation at other universities about the feasibility and necessity of fossil fuel divestment. Hopefully, it will create a domino effect as other institutions follow uOttawa’s lead and commit to divestment.
Is our divestment work at uOttawa done though? Absolutely not. While we are proud of what our campaign has accomplished, what is missing from uOttawa’s decision is a clearly defined timeline for this investment “shift”, as well as a commitment to freeze future investments in fossil fuels. Going forward we’ll be working to ensure that uOttawa adopts a clear timeline and follows through with the admirable commitments it made this week.
In a larger sense, we hope that this decision contributes to the current national debate about energy and climate policies. As uOttawa’s Board of Governors recognized in their decision, the world has, with the signing of the Paris Agreement, agreed to transition away from fossil fuels to a post-carbon society. We hope that other institutions and Canadian society at large will begin to realize that the era of fossil fuels is ending and that it’s time to build a cleaner, more sustainable future. Reducing the impact of the fossil fuel industry in our society through divestment in solidarity with indigenous communities and those most affected by climate change is the first step in order to allow the space for climate solutions to flourish. The climate justice movement needs to continue to push elected officials at all levels of government to implement the policies and practices that will be required for this transition to occur.
We at Fossil Free uOttawa will continue to advocate for strong and clear climate action, whether it be at our university or at the national level, and for a justice-based transition to a renewable energy economy. Will you join us?
- Fossil Free uOttawa sans fossiles