Effective August 15, the AMS is divesting from fossil fuels under its new investment policy, including shares in Enbridge Pipelines, Enbridge Gas and Inter Pipeline Ltd.
Under the new policy approved by Council on August 1, the society will no longer invest in companies listed in the Carbon Underground 200 report and will assess future investments based on each company’s environmental, social and governmental policies.
“The new investment policy basically allows the AMS to put all our $16 million investment fund into companies that are fossil fuel free,” said AMS VP Finance Kuol Akeuchbeny.
As of March 8, the society held investments of $72,964 in Enbridge Pipelines Inc and $59,871 in Inter Pipelines Ltd, among smaller investments via the RBC Canadian Money Market Fund. The society has held these investments since the society transitioned its financial services to RBC in 2017.
Campus environmental group UBCC350, who championed the call for UBC to divest from fossil fuels in 2015 said the society’s decision helps send a message that investment in fossil fuels isn’t necessary to create profit.
“The power of the AMS is that it’s a body of student representatives, so for them to act on this referendum that happened and make this commitment to divesting is really a social message that takes away that legitimacy.” said UBCC350 member Arianna Steed-Murphy.
Turning off the taps
In 2016, Council adopted an official stance that “UBC should take all possible measures to forgo future investments in fossil fuel companies and divest from all existing fossil fuel holdings within five years.”
This was just over two years after the AMS membership voted overwhelmingly to encourage UBC to divest from its holdings in fossil fuels. The university ultimately declined to have a full divestment in its now $2.1 billion endowment, but it did create a $10 million Sustainable Future Fund that is now fully fossil fuel free following a review of the portfolio by UBCC350.
Until recently, however, the AMS had not itself fully divested from fossil fuels.
Akeuchbeny noted that the AMS’s previous investment policy left the society’s investments largely to the finance office’s discretion, stressing the new policy will mandate the society remains divested.
“Now that it’s become a policy, you can actually take that seriously and hold people accountable,” said Akeuchbeny. “That’s why we felt there was a need to make the investment policy very specific.”
Akeuchbeny said he could not speculate on why the AMS previously held these investments, but noted that the society’s financial transition from BMO to RBC created “communication issues” that made keeping track of investments difficult.
When I took over, there were transitions still happening,” said Akeuchbeny. “... At the time, the priority may have been making the funding and whatever financial situation is safely moved from BMO to RBC.”
Former VP Finance Alim Lakhiyalov could not be reached for comment.
Steed-Murphy said the delay shouldn’t detract from the importance of divestment.
“It would have been ideal if they had taken the action that they’ve taken now at the time they did that referendum,” she said. “but it’s also great that it’s happened now, and these things take time.”
Akeuchbeny, who promised to invest with ethics in mind during his campaign in March, said that investments in fossil fuels aren’t compatible with the society's values.
Environmental groups on campus recently began calls for the AMS to improve its transparency around investments and to ultimately distance itself from fossil fuels.
“Even as a student society I think they have the responsibility to have more transparency for students, given that they represent us,” said UBCC350 member Arianna Murphy-Steed in a previous interview with The Ubyssey.
She noted that the society’s financial commitments and investments were not easily publicly accessible, something Akeuchbeny acknowledged reflects longstanding problems with the society’s communication platform.
“Communication with the AMS has been an issue,” he said. “Sometimes the financial information that had to be communicated to everybody didn’t go the way it should have gone.”
Akeuchbeny said the AMS website’s upcoming revamp will help make information like this easier to access for students and increase the society’s transparency with members.
He added that the society’s future investments will continue to be guided by the society’s ethical, social, and economic principles — while still ensuring the AMS remains financially sound.
“Those two will be conflict, and that’s the perception that everyone sees,” he said. “However, that’s not necessarily true.”
Instead, Akeuchbeny believes that divesting from fossil fuels, if anything, will leave the society “better off”, with a “worst case scenario” being they maintain returns at their current levels.
He also acknowledged that while AMS members would likely differ on what constitutes an ‘ethical investment’, the society plans to be careful where it puts its cash in the future, citing child labour and discriminatory practices as examples of what would dissuade the society from continuing investments in companies.
“We do have common ground where we agree that something is ethical or unethical,” said Akeuchbeny.