The Investment Committee of the Queen’s Board of Trustees has decided not to divest the university’s pooled endowment and investment funds from fossil fuels.
The committee made the decision after reviewing and adopting the report of the Principal’s Advisory Committee on Divestment: Fossil Fuels, which undertook an extensive consultation period with the Queen’s community.
“Queen’s is an academic institution whose core activities are teaching and research. The university’s endowment funds exist solely to further these activities and the university has an obligation to seek the best possible return on these investments in order to advance its academic mission,” says Don Raymond, Chair of the Investment Committee. “The Investment Committee agreed that divestment is an ineffective tool to mitigate the risks of climate change and would result in Queen’s losing any moral suasion it has with companies in this sector.”
While the advisory committee’s report did not dispute that climate change is a critical issue, it found that the case for divestment on the basis of ‘social injury,’ as defined in Queen’s Statement on Responsible Investing (SRI), had not been made. The advisory committee also concluded that aside from the question of social injury, divestment is not an effective tool in mitigating the risks of climate change.
“The SRI provides a definition of social injury that entails activities that violate or frustrate the enforcement of rules or laws. While specific instances of illegal activity may occur, the committee recognized that fossil fuel industries are lawful, highly regulated and carry social and economic benefits,” says David Allgood, who chaired the principal’s advisory committee. “Given Queen’s position as a relatively small investor, divestment would be largely a symbolic gesture. There are more effective contributions that Queen’s can make to help address climate change through education, research and innovation, and in its operations.”
The Advisory Committee on Divestment: Fossil Fuels was struck by Principal Daniel Woolf, as required by the SRI, after a divestment request was received from the student group Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change. The advisory committee engaged in extensive consultation before delivering its report.
“When I struck the committee I wanted to ensure that everyone who might wish to have their views heard on this matter would have that opportunity,” says Principal Woolf. “After a six-month consultation period, more than 220 submissions and presentations were received from alumni, students, staff, faculty and others. I would like to thank everyone who participated in this process.”
In accordance with the advisory committee’s recommendations, the Investment Committee will review the applicability of the definition of social injury to sector-wide phenomena, and will consider possible shareholder engagement activities, given the resources available, around mitigating impacts associated with fossil fuel extraction and distribution.
The full report of the Principal’s Advisory Committee on Divestment: Fossil Fuels is available online, and more information about the advisory committee is available on its webpage. Details about Queen’s process for considering divestment requests can be found in the university’s Statement on Responsible Investing.