Board of Governors convene to address plans for reducing carbon emissions

A report of the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) that recommends actions to decrease the overall carbon emissions of the McGill endowment portfolio was discussed at the university’s first Board of Governors (BoG) meeting of the year on Feb. 13. The meeting covered four board committee reports including those of CAMSR and the Investment Committee, which plan to operationalize the recommendations for sustainable practices.

Vice-Principal of Administration and Finance Yves Beauchamp presented a report on the Investment Committee’s collaboration with CAMSR in a meeting held on Jan. 13 that focussed on two of the recommendations: To reduce the overall carbon emissions of the university’s endowment portfolio and to invest in funds that are either low-carbon or contribute to decarbonization. 

The collaborating committees discussed options for the implementation of the recommendations with the understanding that quantifiable targets and timelines would be presented to the BoG in April. CAMSR Chair Cynthia Price said that the result of the Committees’ work will first be presented by members of the Investment Committee to CAMSR on Feb. 18 to advance the operation. 

“In our January meeting, we undertook a discussion on our work plan in order to develop an implementation plan that will operationalize the recommendations that were made to the BoG and approved on Dec. 5,”  Price said. “And our goal is to submit a report to the board by the Apr. 23 BoG meeting that will include the targets and metrics and timeline.” 

Price noted that during their meeting, the committee reviewed the status of other universities regarding their divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

“In this case, we were looking at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Concordia in particular,” Price said. “There are letters from the community that come in, there are updates in the divest movement within our universities in North America and abroad.” 

Nikulas Dworek, an observer of the meeting, asked the board if CAMSR would be more inclined to divest should universities such as UBC fully divest. Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier responded that while the BoG will keep an eye on the divestment trends of other universities, they intend to adhere to a data-based plan specific to what is best for McGill.

“Of course, we will keep track of what’s happening, but we have a course of action that is one where we are going to do our work,” Fortier said. “We are going to make decisions based on data and evidence, not based on what others are doing because they may have a different portfolio than we do.”

The BoG also confirmed that McGill intends to be carbon neutral by 2040. When Dworek asked what this meant in terms of possible investments that included financial carbons, Beauchamp stated that the university’s complete divestment was not possible.

“It cannot be zero, because there will always be emissions,” Beauchamp said. “We cannot have people not travelling [by plane], there would be upset […] but regarding action that would reduce carbon footprint, for instance, as a matter of fact, we switched from natural gas to electricity and that will reduce almost 20 per cent emission [….] Those are the types of things that we are planning on [in the upcoming years].”

Sound bite:

“We review the feedback from the community that has been submitted to CAMSR [….] There are letters from the community that come in, there are updates in the diverse movement within our universities in North America and abroad. So we will continue to work; we have our [next] meeting with the Investment Committee on February 18, which will be very compelling in the work that we need to do going forward.” – CAMSR Chair Cynthia Price

Moment of the meeting:

Principal and Vice-Chancellor Suzanne Fortier began the meeting by announcing that the McGill academic staff members have been strongly advised against non-essential travel to mainland China to reduce risk of contact with the coronavirus.

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