Campaigns to divest from fossil-fuel holdings gain steam – by Tavia Grant (Globe and Mail – June 15, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

From Canadian campuses universities and churches to American foundations and Norway’s parliament, a debate is raging over whether to divest out of fossil-fuel investments.

Thirty campuses in Canada have divestment campaigns to move out of fossil-fuel holdings. No university has announced plans to divest, and some, such as the University of Calgary, have ruled that option out. But change is afoot: Concordia University is creating a $5-million fossil-free fund, while faculty and students at the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria have voted in favour of divesting.

Several churches have divested. And one Toronto-based foundation this year took its investments out of oil sands and coal and is putting them into renewable energy – including one initiative that converts zoo manure into biogas.

Global efforts are gaining momentum. Last year, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund pulled out of fossil-fuel investments, and so did the World Council of Churches. Last month, Oxford University pledged to avoid investments in coal and oil sands firms. This month, Norway’s parliament voted to shed coal-related investments from its $890-billion sovereign-wealth fund, which is the world’s largest.

And just last week in Australia, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians said it is divesting from fossil fuels “due to health impacts of climate change.” Stanford University has gotten out of coal and so has French insurer Axa SA.

Some draw parallels to a generation ago, when the anti-apartheid movement swelled in campuses, churches and community groups, backing a boycott, divestments and sanctions against the South African regime. (This comparison, too, is subject of debate as the methods and issues differ.) And opinions are split on the effectiveness of these divestment campaigns and the degree to which they’ll actually impact climate change.

For Desmond Wilson, director of finance at the $40-million Catherine Donnelly Foundation, the decision to divest in February – just as oil prices were plummeting – wasn’t taken lightly and made only after months of researching financial risks, to better understand carbon bubbles, stranded assets and opportunities in clean energy.

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