UBC signs Canada-wide charter to address climate change through responsible investment

UBC has joined leading Canadian universities to launch Investing to Address Climate Change: A Charter for Canadian Universities, signaling a national commitment to tackle climate change through responsible investment practices.

UBC has joined leading Canadian universities to launch Investing to Address Climate Change: A Charter for Canadian Universities, signaling a national commitment to tackle climate change through responsible investment practices.

“As public institutions and institutional investors, universities in Canada have a responsibility to take action to combat climate change,” said Santa Ono, president and vice-chancellor of UBC. “Together with our post-secondary partners across the country, UBC is proud to manage our long-term investments in ways that support a successful transition to a low-carbon economy.”

The charter’s signatories have pledged to abide by defining principles and practices while encouraging other universities to do the same. The Charter includes a commitment to adopting an investment decision-making framework that’s in-line with recognized global standards, regularly measuring the carbon intensity of investment portfolios, and setting meaningful targets for their reduction over time.

The signing of the Charter follows a number of concrete steps taken by UBC over the past year. In December 2019, the UBC Board of Governors unanimously endorsed a Declaration on the Climate Emergency, which included the establishment of a task force, a climate emergency community engagement process, and recommendations to the Board of Governors.

“When we declared a climate emergency we knew we were sounding an alarm bell,” said Ono. “That was the point. We believe it’s important to directly face the climate crisis as a community here on campus, and with our partners locally and globally.”

The Board also formally committed to full divestment of the university’s Endowment Fund from fossil fuels late last year and has completed the necessary legal and financial analysis to support divestment.

On April 16, 2020, the Board of Governors passed a motion that committed UBC to become a global leader in our comprehensive response to the climate emergency.

In doing so, the university reaffirmed its approach to divestment, aiming to reduce climate change-related financial risk in its endowment through the continued application of ESG (environmental, social and governance) investment practices, signing on to the United Nations Principles of Responsible Investing, and the reduction of carbon emissions and stranded fossil fuel assets.

The motion built on steps already taken to move towards divestment, affirming the university’s ability to divest while maintaining its fiduciary responsibilities.

“UBC is committed to developing solutions to address climate change risk and other sustainability issues while protecting our investment portfolios from climate risk and maximizing financial returns,” said Yale Loh, UBC treasurer. “The university has been moving aggressively towards divestment in receiving the necessary legal opinion and conducting a detailed financial analysis and asset and liability studies.”

An acknowledged leader in post-secondary sustainability policy, UBC continues to excel in the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, placing first in Canada and seventh globally out of more than 850 participating institutions from 89 countries across six continents.

The rankings, inaugurated in 2019, measure universities’ overall impact through their work in meeting the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals. In addition to its overall ranking, UBC placed first in two separate goals—for conserving life underwater by protecting marine habitats, and for taking action to mitigate climate change—the only university to rank first in more than one goal. UBC also placed third for promoting life on land through sustainable management of forests and related ecosystems.

“UBC’s mandate to effect change beyond its institutional boundaries is defined by the knowledge that our decisions and actions impact communities beyond our own borders, with repercussions now and long into the future,” said Ono. “This has been guiding our work as an institution for many years. We continue to work closely with our community and other organizations to advance a sustainable and just society across our province, Canada and the world.”