The AMS has Divested From the Fossil Fuel Industry
The Alma Mater Society of Queen’s University (AMS) has divested itself of all holdings in companies that produce, transport, and dispense fossil fuels.
“This past March, the City of Kingston became the first municipality in Ontario to declare a climate emergency,” AMS President Auston Pierce said. “As members of this community and of the generation who will be most impacted by climate change, we felt a duty to answer this call and do whatever we can to address the climate crisis.”
According to the City’s official climate projections—which draw on 40 peer-reviewed studies—Kingston’s average annual temperature could rise by 3.3°C above the historical mean by the 2050s. It also forecasts that this change will result in increased “heat stress, extreme winds, intense rain, ice storms, and more outbreaks like Lyme disease.” Furthermore, higher precipitation levels are likely to increase both the frequency and severity of flooding events, particularly in the University District and other neighborhoods adjacent to Lake Ontario, which could have a devastating effect on infrastructure and student housing.
“These impacts need to be put in a global context, particularly regarding places without the resources to create resilient infrastructures,” Pierce said.
“Each of us has a stake in this issue, whether we like it or not, and that comes with a moral responsibility to act,” he said. “We must confront the climate crisis systematically and courageously, because we don’t have any other option. Both the private and public sectors have to appreciate the breadth of change that needs to happen, and it cannot succeed without the energy sector moving toward more sustainable and renewable development.”
The process of divestiture was completed on September 23. AMS Vice-President (Operations) Jessica Dahanayake described it as “seamless.”
“The AMS has been restructuring over the past few months as we adapt to the challenges presented by the Student Choice Initiative,” she said. “Most recently, this has involved consolidating our financial services into a single provider.”
To provide consistency in program offerings and enable major projects deemed to be in the long-term interest of students, the AMS manages student money in a series of funds. The residual value of these individual funds—which had been separately managed until this week’s change—is invested in financial markets in order to generate a return for students.
“So, this was a perfect opportunity to change the composition of our assets,” Dahanayake said. “Furthermore, we will see savings from reduced management fees under this new strategy, and I don’t foresee any adverse effects on the overall returns generated by those funds.”
AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) William Greene expressed gratitude to generations of student leaders whose advocacy inspired this change.
“We have been meeting with student groups who are very passionate about fighting the climate crisis, especially Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC), who have spent many years lobbying for decisive action,” Greene said. “As a member-driven organization, it is important that we amplify the voices of students who are trying to create change.”
Greene hopes that the AMS can set an example as the first student government in Ontario to completely divest itself of financial interest in the oil and gas sector. He promises that there is more to come.
“This is one of many steps we will be taking this year toward cultivating a more sustainable campus community,” he said. “We are currently reviewing all our operations and advocacy efforts to figure out how we can have an even bigger impact.”
Auston Pierce hopes that students can celebrate this divestment as a point of pride and a step in the right direction. He added that they should not expect it to interfere with their campus experience or personal goals.
“We recognize the prominence of oil and gas companies in Canada’s economy and that many of the students we represent would like to work in this industry in the future,” he said. “We feel that it is important to engage with the Canadian energy sector, who will need to be a part of any lasting change that will transition us to a more environmentally-conscious society. Our decision to divest is intended to serve as a message that young people want to see action. We want to demonstrate to our peers that your voices matter, that your future matters, and that action on climate change can come from anywhere. We need to continue to have difficult conversations and make difficult choices because our future depends on it.”
Alma Mater Society (AMS) – http://www.myams.org
The central undergraduate student government at Queen’s University, the AMS represents over 18,000 students and is the oldest student government in Canada. There are over 1,000 student volunteers and 700 paid staff.