On September 23, U of T community members participated in Fridays for Future Toronto’s (FFFTO) annual climate strike, which started with speeches and performances in front of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Before the climate strike, U of T Climate Justice and the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council (VUSAC) organized a rally to call on U of T’s federated colleges to divest from fossil fuels.

At the U of T rally, which happened outside Sidney Smith Hall, students demanded further transparency from U of T about its involvement in fossil fuel-sponsored research. Students also asked that U of T incorporate sustainability frameworks into its academic programs. 

Speakers and performers at the FFFTO climate strike highlighted the disproportionate impact of the climate crisis on the Indigenous communities in Canada. Recent floods in Pakistan have also demonstrated that the impact of the climate crisis is more apparent in the Global South than in the Global North.

Students’ concerns

Léo Jourdan, a fifth-year computer science and mathematics student and member of U of T Climate Justice, said that the university should be doing more to “prepare… students for the world that [they] will be living in.”

“​​We want sustainability to be weaved into existing programs [at U of T],” said Jourdan.

In a statement to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote that the university is working on “sustainability pathways” in classes and co-curricular activities to facilitate the development of students as sustainable citizens.  

Additionally, the U of T spokesperson wrote that the university’s approach is “multi-pronged,” with various initiatives anticipated to meet their climate goals at different times. 

The students also called on the federated colleges at U of T to divest their endowment funds from fossil fuels. Although U of T has pledged to fully divest from fossil fuels by 2030, federated colleges at U of T have investment portfolios that are independent of U of T’s larger investment portfolio; as such, U of T’s decision had no bearing on the investment behaviour of the federated colleges. 

In an interview with The Varsity, VUSAC Sustainability Commissioner and second-year physics and mathematics student Amy Mann said that VUSAC hoped to show a strong presence of U of T students at the Queen’s Park climate strike. Mann acknowledged that U of T’s divestment commitment represented a step forward, and explained that VUSAC plans to keep pushing Victoria College to divest as well. 

In a statement to The Varsity, a Victoria College spokesperson expressed support for the “strong student advocacy” on climate issues. 

According to the statement, the Victoria College’s Board of Regents, which is responsible for managing the college’s endowment funds, will hold an annual review of its policy on investment decisions in the coming months. 

Mann also referenced the university’s plan for a climate-positive campus by 2050, noting that it was still behind the City of Toronto’s plan to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. Mann was critical of this timeline given that the university has more resources than some other academic institutions.

Mann emphasized that it is vital for U of T students to get involved because the university has the resources to take action on climate change.

“It’s our future and this is an emergency, and [U of T] needs to act like it,” said Mann. 

Demands for government action

In an interview with The Varsity, Aliénor Rougeot, a lead coordinator at FFTO, said, “What we want to communicate is that climate action is necessary, it’s urgent, and that we are not fooled by the greenwashing that’s been done, both by the government and by industries.”  

Some of the demands made by the group include an end to fossil fuel subsidies and projects, a transition to renewable energy that takes into account the needs of workers, and the addition of climate justice elements to the Ontario curriculum for all grades. 

Rougeot noted that this year’s strike is fundamentally different from strikes from previous years “because it’s a strike of anger.” 

Rougeot added that, since 2019, she has observed only superficial change from governments. 

Chris Glover, MPP of the Spadina—Fort York riding, was at the Climate Strike and also expressed disappointment with the Ontario government. “Instead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario, this government’s trajectory is to actually quadruple [emissions] from the power grid,” said Glover in an interview with The Varsity.

Vanessa Gray — a U of T researcher, member of Aamjiwnaang First Nation, and Indigenous land protector — spoke at the climate strike. She mentioned that the Canadian government is operating oil and gas pipelines on Indigenous land, which harm the environment and disrupt the livelihoods of local Indigenous communities. Since December 2019, Wet’suwet’en land defenders have been protesting the construction of the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, a 670-kilometre-long natural gas pipeline that would go through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. 

The International importance of the strike

“Per capita, [Canada is] one of the highest greenhouse gas emission emitters on the planet, said Glover, emphasizing that the Global North is responsible for most of the “damage that’s being suffered around the world. Accordingly, he highlighted the impact of the decisions made by the Canadian government.

For example, catastrophic floods in Pakistan have displaced over 30 million people. According to The Washington Post, deaths surpassed 1,600 as of September 23. Pakistan is the country with the highest number of glaciers, excluding the polar regions. This past summer, Jacobabad, Pakistan recorded this year’s highest temperature in the world at 51 degrees Celsius.  

Miral Chaudhry is a third-year U of T student who was in Pakistan this summer. In conversation with The Varsity at the Climate Strike, Chaudhry emphasized the impact of the climate crisis in Pakistan.

Chaudhry mentioned that stagnant water from the floods has led to the spread of waterborne diseases like dengue fever. “It’s very unfortunate that we are the ones suffering and the Western countries are not taking responsibility for their [larger contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions],” said Chaudhry.

Glover echoed this sentiment, “We’re not taking responsibility for the damage that we’ve caused.”