Commentary  A higher standard

Challenging McGill’s harmful investments

When I think about the enormity of climate change, it is easy for me to get depressed. When I learned that McGill funds the companies polluting our planet, it was even harder to stay positive.

McGill – a school that prides itself on going green, with its Office of Sustainability, hundreds of environmental groups and classes, and tremendous student initiatives like Campus Crops and Gorilla Composting – invests in the fossil fuel companies and tar sands companies emitting greenhouse gases and driving climate change.

McGill has one of the largest endowment funds in Canada, about $1 billion in total, with an equally large pension fund. The endowment fund maintains significant investments in the largest fossil fuel companies on the planet, including 14 companies that extract oil from Alberta’s tar sands. The Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) published a list of the 100 companies with the largest carbon reserves in coal, as well as another with the 100 companies with the largest carbon reserves in oil and gas. Thirty-five of them appear on McGill’s investment sheet. (The full list of the companies is on the website.)

In total, those companies have 205.455 gigatonnes of CO2 stored beneath the ground, which is 7 per cent of the world’s carbon reserves and 36 per cent of our remaining carbon budget for the next 38 years. The CTI estimates that only 886 gigatonnes can be emitted from 2000 to 2050 if we hope to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius. With 321 gigatonnes burned in the last 12 years, only 565 gigatonnes remain. Thus, 80 per cent of the world’s 2,795 gigatonne fossil fuel reserves must remain underground. None of these fossil fuel companies has pledged to keep 80 per cent of their resources unburned, nor will they as long as it is profitable for them.

At Divest McGill, we have a solution. We want our University to act in line with its supposed values, and sustainability and social responsibility are key values that students, faculty, staff, alumni, and many in the administration share. That is why we are asking the McGill Board of Governors to divest (disinvest) its holdings in the tar sands and fossil fuels. We are also asking them to divest from the Plan Nord and from companies acting without consent on indigenous land.

Students at 210 universities across North America are asking for the same thing. Our schools collectively provide extraordinary amounts of funding to these companies by owning shares directly, through pooled funds, and by investing in financial institutions that fund these destructive practices. Just like with apartheid South Africa, we are creating a divestment movement here with the potential to create positive change the world over.

Here is our game plan: we are currently collecting signatures for petitions, which you can sign online. On February 1, we will submit our petitions, signatures, and the final version of the social injury briefs (more on that in a second) to the Board of Governors, where the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) will consider our concerns and make recommendations. It will be a long process, but we intend to finish it however long it takes.

The CAMSR requires a social injury brief detailing the ways in which the companies harm people, the planet, and society before it will consider divestment. Divest McGill just published the first drafts of its two briefs and is looking for feedback. We will take all recommendations or concerns into account, and submit a revised version to the Board.

We will have a meeting on January 27 at 12 p.m. in the Clubs Lounge in SSMU to kick off a real campaign. Anyone interested in getting involved is welcome to come. In the meantime, if you are interested in helping out you can sign the petitions, send them to friends, share them on Facebook, and read the briefs. If you are part of a green club or union on campus, bring this campaign up and ask your organization to endorse this petition.

Together we can make McGill’s investments responsible and sustainable. Let’s work to hold McGill to a higher standard.

Chris Bangs is a U3 Economics and Political Science student. He can be reached at More information can be found at, including the petitions and briefs.