The McGill Board of Governors held its first meeting of the year on Oct. 3 to discuss investments and climate initiatives for the coming school year. Although board members were satisfied with the recognition McGill has received for its environmental vision, students advocating for divestment felt that the sustainability initiatives the Board lauded were mostly superficial.
Joel Raby, Chair of the Board’s Investment Committee, presented a report on the performance of McGill’s investable assets in the last fiscal year. A motion to revise the Statement of Investment Policy (SIP), a plan for McGill’s assets managed through the McGill Investment Pool (MIP), was quickly approved. Raby then explained that McGill’s investments have not suffered from inflation and have ultimately preserved donors’ capital.
Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) President Bryan Buraga asked if Raby had any information about how the fossil fuels investments are performing compared to other investments. Ruby affirmed that although he did not have such information available, the Investment Committee would inform the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) on the university’s risk-reward tradeoff for the divestment on fossil fuels.
As the board deferred a motion regarding divestment from fossil fuels to the Committee to Advise on Matters of Social Responsibility (CAMSR) last year, that was not discussed at the meeting. The committee has been investigating the matter and will officially recommend a course of action in December.
Maryse Bertrand, Vice-Chair of the board and member of CAMSR, gave a brief progress report.
“We started the work on the committee exactly a year ago [in] 2018,” Bertrand said. “The first [phase] was very much a fact-finding, evidence-receiving sort of phase. I think we’re in the stage where we’re going to try to now deliberate on the information that we’ve received [….]”
The committee is set to release its official report by Dec. 5. The board’s next meeting on Dec. 12 will likely be the deciding vote on divestment.
The board also focused on their successful environmental initiatives on campus. François Miller, Sustainability Director and leader of the team behind the McGill Office of Sustainability, presented the report.
“I just want to highlight that we’ve been implementing quite a few successful student and staff involvement programs at McGill.” Miller said. “In fact, those programs were recognized by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education [AASHE]. So both the staff garden programs that we have near the Burnside building and the Sustainable Workplace Certification were awarded the Campus Sustainability Achievement award.”
Miller talked about numerous climate-related programs started in the past year. He mentioned the student-led Desautels Sustainability Network’s Business Conference on Sustainability and a measure setting aside $250,000 to cover the extra cost of purchasing an electric vehicle when a conventional vehicle needs replacement. He also cited Minister of Environment Catherine McKenna’s visit on campus to announce a $1.8 million investment from Canada’s Low Carbon Economy Fund to help McGill meet its carbon emissions goal. Miller also mentioned some of the external recognition McGill has received, such as the Sustainability Institution of the Year award for its Vision 2020 Sustainability Strategy given at an award ceremony supported by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).
After the meeting, Laura Mackey, U3 Environment and a member of Divest McGill, spoke with The McGill Tribune about McGill’s failure to divest from fossil fuels.
“McGill cannot be carbon neutral while still invested in fossil fuels,” Mackey said. “It’s all very surface level commitments to sustainability. And it’s nice to see, it’s nice to hear. But without fossil fuel divestment it isn’t meaningful [.…] It really feels like McGill is using greenwashing and wants an image of being a sustainable university while actually not meeting that goal whatsoever.”