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Vancouver mulls how to get rid of fossil fuel investments

Vancouver must stop investing its pension funds in fossil fuels if it really wants to reign as the “greenest” city in the world.

That’s what city council heard Wednesday from a group of policy analysts, professors, students and citizens who implored the city to do the “moral” thing and divest from companies such as Suncor, Chevron and Shell.

“It makes little sense for public sector pension funds to profit from pipeline companies whose pipelines are not wanted by the people of this province,” said Marc Lee, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, referring to investments in Enbridge.

But that won’t be easy, city staff explained as council voted to send them on a yearlong mission to develop an investment screening process.

While the city invests about $100 million annually into the province-wide Municipal Pension Plan (MPP), managed by the B.C. Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC), it has no control over where that money goes.

The BCIMC voluntarily follows the United Nations principles of responsible investing, meaning they also take governance, environmental and social issues into account.

But its number one priority is to make the most possible cash out if its investments – an important goal, especially considering pension costs are set to soar once the baby boomers retire – hence the large number of natural resource companies. (Mac lovers should note it also invests in Apple.)

In order to stop investing in tobacco, fossil fuel and weapons, the city would have to convince the BCIMC to pull the plug on these industries too. One speaker asked the city to cut investments from the mining sector, a proposition that could prove especially tense as Vancouver is home to dozens of mining head offices.

It’s not clear whether it’s legal, feasible or desirable, for Vancouver to invest its money separately from the BCIMC.

Research has shown little difference between returns on “ethical” funds and ones without stipulations.

VanCity Credit Union pulled all investments in Enbridge Inc. in 2012, and San Francisco and Seattle are considering divesting from fossil fuels.

Coun. Andrea Reimer hopes Vancouver will come up with a policy that will set standards for investment screening across Canada.

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