Vancouver sets the stage for divestment

Vancouver Sets the Stage to Divest

Vancouver’s Council considered a responsible investing motion on October 9th, 2013, after learning from city staff that its provincially-managed pension fund was heavily invested fossil fuel, tobacco and mining companies. The bank and credit union companies directly held by the City also fail to disclose their exposure to climate risk and carbon liabilities.

I spoke to Council and along with several other speakers urged them to adopt a fossil fuel divestment policy. Although Council declined to adopt a divestment commitment today, they seriously and thoughtfully engaged speakers about the issue and have asked city staff to report back with plans for screening investments and steps that should lead to divestment in the City’s pension fund.

I am very encouraged that Vancouver is starting down the path to full divestment, joining cities like Seattle and San Francisco that are already on their way.

Show your support. Add your name to the City of Vancouver divestment petition. If you’re a student, faculty, staff or alumni of SFU, sign the SFU divestment petition Sustainable SFU started. You can also start a divestment petition of your own for your pension fund, government, church or school by visiting Fossil Free Canada or Go Fossil Free (US/Global).

Below is audio and text of my comments to Council. (Hyperlinks have been added to the text, which is differs slightly from the audio delivery).

Good morning Councillors. I’m Mike Soron, a Vancouver resident and the Executive Director of Sustainable SFU.

I’m here today to support this motion in principle, but urge council to be even bolder in its leadership on responsible investing. While I support the recommendations in the staff report, they don’t go nearly far enough to protect our citizens and their investments as the world get warmer.

The city has an obligation to get out of the climate change business. You should do so because this government has made a commitment to prepare our community for global warming and carbon reduction in its Greenest City Action Plan and sustainable purchasing policy. But you also have a moral obligation to protect our community today and over time based on the best information available about the risks we face together.

Councillors Ball and Affleck: Your party, the NPA, first highlighted the climate threat at Council nearly a quarter century ago with its Clouds of Change report. So I know it doesn’t need to be said in this room but as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us – as it has four times before – climate change is happening, it is human-caused and burning fossil fuels is the main driver.

Climate change will cost our city billions of dollars; impacting trade and tourism, public health, and parks. Billions of dollars of real estate and infrastructure is at risk. With just one climate-related disaster – the floods my family faced this summer in Calgary – Alberta faces costs of more than $5 billion.

Every generation in Vancouver is at risk if we don’t leave fossil fuel assets in the ground.

Fossil fuel burning threatens our seniors. Tens of thousands of elderly citizens – retirees, pensioners – have perished because of climate-related extreme heat waves in Paris, Moscow and other cities around the planet. Fossil fuel burning threatens the health and future our youngest citizens – not to mention those citizens not yet born.

The youngest and oldest in our communities, children and retirees, will bear the brunt of the public health and economic damages caused by companies like Chevron and Exxon Mobil; companies that the city and it’s employees fund through the pension plan and it’s bank investments.

This past weekend, I joined hundreds of youth, elders and Indigenous people at PowerShift BC, a climate justice convergence in Victoria. Dozens of students from SFU, UBC, and high schools across Vancouver were among those who gathered.

Young people are determined to protect their future. They demand that same determination of their leaders. On Saturday evening, at the MacPhearson playhouse in Victoria PowerShift attendees urged Vancouver to get out the business of climate change.

The work of these youth along with the work of council and city employees on Greenest City action, ironically threatens the value of bank and credit union and municipal pension plan holdings of the city and its employees.

I am here to warn to the City that the fossil fuel investments in their municipal pension plan and its bank holdings may soon be worthless.

Yes: Efforts by city council and staff to become the greenest city in the world and reduce our carbon use actually undermine the value of your investments. The IPCC, World Bank, International Energy Agency, and others tell us that most fossil fuels assets need to be left in the ground if we hope to avoid irreversible global warming and chaos.

Chevron, just one of the pension plans biggest fossil fuel investments, has nearly 22 GT of CO2 in its proven reserves, alone enough to blow past Canada’s fair Carbon Budget of 20GT.

Governments, institutions and communities WILL act to stop fossil fuel extraction. A just-released study by the University of Oxford’s “Stranded Assets Programme” found the fossil fuel divestment movement is growing and it’s successful. Already over 300 divestment campaigns have started – including at SFU, UBC and here in the City of Vancouver. More are on the way. The Stranded Assets Programme found divestment poses a “far-reaching threat” to the value of fossil fuel companies.

The real risk to the City isn’t in divesting, it’s in not divesting soon enough.

For its employees and for all its citizens, Vancouver must get out of the business of climate change.

Vancouver should officially join Seattle, San Francisco, the United Church of Christ and others in divesting from fossil fuel. A motion here today in support of the fossil fuel divestment movement will show that Vancouver takes its Greenest City ambitions seriously. Officially prohibit fossil fuel investment and prove that Vancouver walks the talk on protecting our community from climate change.

Councillors: by investing in fossil fuel companies, we are devouring our own tail. Amend this motion and join the call for fossil fuel divestment. Get Vancouver out of the business of climate change.

Thank you.