Dalhousie Releases Preliminary Report on Fossil Fuel Divestment

A forum is planned, and further input is requested.

Today, Dalhousie University released the Preliminary Report of the Ad hoc Committee of Senate on Fossil Fuel Divestment. The draft was presented to Senate on Monday. A good summary of the presentation, including some background, is provided at Halifax Media Coop. The draft is released on the heels of a similar effort at University of Toronto.

The Committee, which consists of six representatives from across the University, including myself, was charged with investigating and critically analyzing the opportunities and risks of fossil fuel divestment to Dalhousie’s academic units. We canvassed for input, and received submissions from faculties, departments, groups and individuals.

Divestment is a contentious issue. It is accepted that the burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change, with implications for food and water security, biodiversity and more. There are, however, varied opinions on how greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced, and whether or not divestment will help. The complexity of the issues was rightly reflected by the input we received. We carefully studied the submissions and extracted a potential consensus position.

We heard a lot from the community about ethical considerations. Some fossil fuel companies are perceived to be bad actors in the battle against climate change, while others are considered to be part of the eventual solution. Investing in bad actors is regarded as unethical and something Dalhousie should not be doing. A similar conclusion was reached at University of Toronto.

So, consistent with the input, we have recommended that Dalhousie University adopts ethical investment guidelines for fossil fuel companies. Specifically, we propose the following criteria to flag a company for ethical review:

  • Lobbying of the public, government departments or government decision makers, either directly or indirectly, against effective climate policy, environmental stewardship or other measures connected to the transition to fossil-free energy sources.

  • Opposition to global cooperation on climate mitigation, adaptation and impact evaluation, or the transition to fossil-free energy sources.

  • Support of or membership in organizations actively promoting climate change denial or actively attempting to confuse the public about the overwhelming scientific consensus about the human contribution to climate change.

  • Financial valuations based on significant asset holdings in the form of rights to fossil fuel reserves which, based on current technology, would need to remain undeveloped to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Crucially, we recommend that the University review their investments using a

“…reverse onus approach, whereby Dalhousie would notify companies for which ethical concerns have been raised of the intent to withdraw investment within a specified time period unless the company demonstrates to the satisfaction of the University that its business practices and history align with Dalhousie’s ethical investment guidelines on climate change and environmental stewardship.”

We suggest beginning with an existing review list such as the “200 Carbon Majors”.1

Hopefully this proposal reflects the nuanced, thoughtful approach advocated by so many at the University.

There is much more to the report, and I encourage you to carefully read it. The logic behind our recommendation is carefully explained, and many other points of interest are analyzed.

The Committee welcomes comment on the preliminary report from the Dalhousie community. In particular, we are holding a forum (January 7, 2016 in the McInnis Room, Student Union Building from 4pm – 6pm) to encourage discussion. Written comments can be submitted to senate@dal.ca on or before January 13, 2016.

  1. I just noticed that this conflates two different lists:

    1. The Carbon Majors, the result of a peer reviewed study that traces back 2/3 of all historical emissions to 90 companies;


    1. The Carbon Underground 200, which lists the top 200 companies ranked by the potential carbon emissions content of their reported reserves.

    I have flagged this as a problem for the Committee to resolve.