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Students call off hunger strike as SFU commits to fossil fuel divestment

SFU has committed to full divestment from fossil fuels by 2025, just as a group of students planned to launch a hunger strike to advocate for such a commitment.

The university announced the commitment on Nov 1, the same day the students were set to start their hunger strike. It’s also the second day of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, UK.

The COP (Conference of the Parties) meetings are held annually and guide global commitments with respect to climate action.

Warnings have become increasingly dire for a vast reduction in carbon emissions. Scientists say global emissions need to be cut in half by the end of this decade, with a net-zero emissions deadline for 2050, to hold global warming levels to 1.5 C.

Extreme weather events, like this past summer’s deadly heat dome, droughts, major wildfire seasons, hurricanes, and more, will increase in frequency and severity as a result of manmade climate change.

In response to SFU’s commitment, student organizers of the hunger strike called the action off, citing a “productive meeting with university administrators.”

“This divestment comes as a great victory after 8 years of hard-fought campaigns organized by several actors, including SFU350 and many faculty staff, followed by a short direct action campaign by independent students,” reads the news release.

The announcement came a day after math professor Nilima Nigam decided to join the strike.

Another faculty member, health science professor Tim Takaro, who has been a leading activist against the Trans Mountain pipeline in the Burnaby area, said divestment is just the start.

“The university still has to appropriately address the threat of the Trans Mountain pipeline on the mountain, which puts the students and staff at lethal risk,” Takaro said.

In a statement published to its website, SFU noted it has had a carbon reduction strategy for “many years,” calling itself a “leader among Canadian universities for taking action in responsible investment.”

“In fact, the university has already achieved zero direct investments in fossil fuels and only 5% of indirect investments remain in fossil fuel-related industries. This is the final step in the journey toward full divestment,” reads the statement.

The university did not mention the hunger strike in its release.

The investment advisory committee, a subcommittee of the board of governors, guides investment of SFU’s $1.1-billion holdings. The holdings include $650 million in endowment funds and $550 million in non-endowment or working capital funds.

The responsible investment committee guides carbon footprint reductions in the university’s investment portfolio.

The university has “been in discussion with these groups for years as we work to achieve targets and will meet in late November to finalize goals and timelines.”

“We believe we can be fully divested from fossil fuels by 2025,” SFU said.

Last month, SFU student Jaden Dyer, one of the organizers of the hunger strike, said the action took inspiration from similar movements at UBC a year ago and at King’s College several years prior.

“So there’s a lot of precedent for it. And that’s a big part of why we decided to go with a hunger strike,” Dyer said in an interview at the time.

In a news release yesterday, Dyer called the university’s commitment a “victory.”

“If a small group of students at a university can do this, anyone can. I would advise other campaigners to not give up and escalate their nonviolent tactics. We are the last generation who can save this planet,” Dyer said.

Organizers of the hunger strike said the next move from students may involve a direct demand regarding the Trans Mountain expansion.

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