On October 27, 2021, President Meric Gertler committed to divesting the university’s $4 billion endowment from investments in fossil fuels by 2030.
The university has since confirmed that University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) has completely divested from direct fossil fuel companies as of October 27, 2022. UTAM is also currently on track to completely divest from indirect investments by 2030. Despite this achievement, students involved with Climate Justice UofT are still demanding that U of T’s federated colleges, the University of St Michael’s College, the University of Trinity College, and Victoria University, divest from fossil fuels.
A spokesperson for the University of Toronto explained that, “As Canada’s largest research university, we have a critical role to play in meeting the urgent challenge of climate change.”
The spokesperson explained that U of T’s commitments to decarbonizing its investments in fossil fuel companies contribute to their ultimate goal of implementing clean energy solutions.
The spokesperson’s statement did not mention anything new in terms of next steps to achieving their indirect divestment goal.
Climate Positive Energy Initiative
To achieve the university’s climate objectives, the Climate Positive Energy (CPE) Initiative conducts energy research by connecting members with backgrounds in science, social science, engineering, economics, and policy. The CPE offers programs focusing on collaborative research, training, and knowledge translation and promotion. The CPE’s overall goal is to ensure that energy access and production is equitable, as well as aiding Canada to become a global clean-energy model. The CPE has multiple partnerships with Toronto-based organizations, including the Toronto Board of Trade.
In April 2022, the CPE and Climate Positive Campus (CPC) announced four collaborative projects focused on renewable energy, energy efficiency, health, well-being and behaviour, as well as emissions accounting. These four projects’ grants total $400,000 and include actions like increasing the installments of solar panels and specific windows to help maintain heat inside buildings, as well as organizing a commuter survey to understand the U of T community’s travel patterns.
The CPC website states that to achieve the campus’s climate positive goal by 2050, there needs to be a major transformation of current campus architecture and a new model of sustainable growth. It adds that, “These projects represent an opportunity to innovate and advance science, technology, policy, and frameworks that can be proven and piloted at U of T as a living lab.”
The spokesperson commented that the CPE also provides grant funding to students and faculty for “interdisciplinary, early stage, and high-impact research in sustainable energy.”
In support of the CPC commitment to achieve a carbon-negative UTSG by 2050, the CPE plans to integrate U of T’s clean energy research into the university’s sustainable projects. To be carbon negative is to emit less carbon than net zero.
The university’s challenges
The U of T spokesperson highlighted that because the university’s campus is one of the oldest in Ontario, the university is starting to deal with the aging of buildings and infrastructure.
The university’s “biggest challenge is integrating energy efficient solutions into these heritage buildings,” and so the university has focused on the Climate Positive Campus Plan. The CPC plan is to achieve 80 per cent absolute carbon reductions on campus by 2050. This is the centrepiece for the university’s climate plan to help the university become a carbon sink — something that absorbs more carbon than it releases. Some of the key initiatives in this plan include building more low-carbon buildings and fixing the infrastructure of older buildings to help reduce their carbon footprint.
Federated colleges and divestment
On October 27, Climate Justice UofT dropped a banner at each of U of T’s federated colleges, calling upon them to divest.
Although U of T’s central governing body has jurisdiction over Woodsworth, Innis, University, and New College, the federated colleges have more control over their programming, faculty, student intake, and finances. As a result, the federated colleges are not part of the university’s divestment plans.
In a February email to The Varsity, Victoria College spokesperson Liz Taylor Surani explained that Vic’s Board of Regents is responsible for managing the college’s investments. She wrote that the investment committee would conduct its annual review of the Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) guidelines in the coming months, and any updated investment decisions would reflect the reviewed guidelines.
Vic has since published its 2021–2022 Sustainability Annual Report. Following this report, Vic also published its future initiatives for 2022–23, which include completing the second phase of the geothermal study at Margaret Addison Hall field, developing a Victoria College specific climate action plan in collaboration with U of T and Vic stakeholders, and consulting services for replacement or refurbishment of the windows at Lower Burwash Hall.