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The Fossil Fuel Divestment Movement Has Come to Canadian Universities

Université Laval in Quebec is the first to say no to fossil fuel investments.

Québec's Université Laval has become the first Canadian university to vow to divest from fossil fuels, in an effort to join the global movement towards fossil fuel divestment.

Éric Bauce, Laval's executive vice rector in charge of sustainable development, made the announcement last week, following his meeting with the campus activism group 'ULaval sans fossiles,' or "University of Laval without fossil fuels."

"Today, Université Laval commits to taking responsible action to switch its endowment fund investments in fossil energy to other types of investments, such as renewable energy," he said in a statement on the university's website. As part of the agreement, the school will form an advisory committee and publish annual reports on the divestment transition.

Read More: Fossil Fuel Divestment Has Doubled In The Last 15 Months

According to a post by one of the 'ULaval sans fossiles' founders, who met with Bauce, he made the pledge before detailing a timeline of when the university could achieve this, or investigating possible ramifications on its funds.

"After two hours of discussions, Bauce put his fist on the table and said that, instead of first seeing if divesting was possible before committing, the university should make the commitment first and then find a way to achieve their goal," the post said. "The case was closed. We had won."

Representatives from Université Laval could not be reached to comment on the overall investments of the university or the dollar amount of funds that must now be reallocated.

Other Canadian universities have looked into divestment in the past year, with University of Ottawa and University of British Columbia both rejecting to fully commit to the movement, but saying they would reallocate some of their investments into renewable energy.

University-based activists from other Canadian campuses reacted to Laval's statement by asking their universities to follow suit, in statements posted on environmental group 350's website.

This is exactly how divestment becomes effective as a movement, said CEO of Genus Capital Management Wayne Wachell. "Once one university starts, you'll see a chain reaction," he said in a phone interview. "It's a momentum-building process."

Wachell, whose Vancouver-based firm became the first to develop a fossil-free fund in Canada, explained that individuals and institutions typically divest for two reasons: in order not to associate themselves and their brands with climate change, and more practically, to avoid the risk of stranded assets, which lose value before initially expected.

As what he called the "bandwagon effect" of the divestment movement grows and countries are pressured to reduce their carbon footprints—through the Paris Agreement, for example—it actually becomes riskier to invest in oil companies, he argued.

Outside of the stock market, Wachell said it's increasingly dangerous for universities to risk their image by associating with "stigmatized" products like coal. If your institution's brand is sustainable, he said, "why would you have a dirty portfolio?"

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