Leap UofT has circulated a petition for the university community calling for U of T to declare a climate emergency and divest from fossil fuels. This was done in conjunction with other environ- mental justice organizations on campus, including the Ontario Public Interest Research Group Toronto.
The petition also calls for the university to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, increase environmental and sustainability education programs, and sign a letter in support of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals 4 and 13: Quality Education and Climate Action, respectively.
Carmen, a second-year student in biodiversity and conservation biology and diaspora and transnational studies, and a member of Leap UofT, said that the groups chose the route of petitioning because it was an efficient way to diffuse their message to a large audience.
However, Carmen noted that this is only an initial step in their advocacy plans to “get the message out” and go through institutional channels prior to taking more “dramatic” measures.
In response to the petition, a U of T spokesperson wrote to The Varsity that the university is “committed to playing a leadership role in addressing climate change” via research, teaching, and reducing the carbon footprint of campuses. The spokesperson also pointed to efforts made by the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation to reduce the endowment and pension fund’s carbon footprint by 40 per cent over the next 10 years.
In the lead up to 2015, a petition from Toronto350.org and student activists encouraged U of T to create a committee to investigate the university’s financial investments. The Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) was created and recommended that U of T divest from firms that ignore the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming threshold, are disseminating misinformation regarding the climate crisis, or from those that get 10 per cent or more of their revenue from non-conventional or aggressive extraction.
In 2016 the university rejected recommendations from PAC and instead took an approach that evaluates firms using environmental, social, and governance factors.
Following the rejection of recommendations by the PAC, President Gertler struck the President’s Advisory Committee on Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability (CECCS). CECCS focuses a response to the climate crisis from the perspective of academia, that is curriculum innovation, campus as a living lab, and the university as an agent of change.
Scott Prudham, a professor in the School of Environment, felt that the actions were insufficient: “If, as [the CECCS] argues, U of T needs to be a living lab and an agent of change, then this must go beyond curriculum to the material and energy foundations of the institution.”
Professor Matthew Hoffman, who served on the PAC, noted “our portfolio is higher in carbon emissions than I’d like to see.”
The divestment petition states that U of T has “a responsibility and an opportunity to demonstrate genuine institutional leadership in the fight against dangerous climate change and in the fight for a socially just climate transition.”
The petition is accepting signatures until April 2, 2020.