The University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) announced that as of October 27, 2022, it had completely divested from direct fossil fuel companies, and is on track to divest from indirect investments by 2030.
Both of these goals were a part of the original commitment made by President Meric Gertler in October 2021. However the lack of participation from the federated colleges — the University of St. Michael’s College, Victoria University, and the University of Trinity College — must be accounted for when evaluating U of T’s actions toward becoming more sustainable.
Vic’s Annual Sustainability report for 2021–2022, as well as its plan for future initiatives in 2022–2023, emphasize reducing waste, including increased installation of 3-compartment bins and bottle filling stations, as well as reducing energy usage through changes to plumbing and air conditioning systems. However, the report does not provide any information on whether the college plans to divest from fossil fuel investment. There is a striking lack of information on fossil fuel divestment from the other colleges as well.
While it is important that an institution of U of T’s size takes action to lessen their contributions to climate change on an individual level, it is also essential to consider how it may be enabling the harmful contributions of other corporations — and this is where divestment comes into play.
As Canada’s largest research university, U of T’s impact is undeniable, especially when it comes to financial support and investment. In light of this, divesting from direct fossil fuel companies demonstrates true dedication to mitigating the climate issue and sets the stage for other organizations, such as universities and corporations, to do the same.
With the three federated colleges accounting for a significant portion of this impact, it is essential that they follow in the footsteps of UTAM. Rather than pursuing unsustainable plans that have very small-scale effects and place the onus on individuals to solve a world issue, it is time for large organizations to take responsibility for their contributions to climate change and to help mitigate the crisis.
One effective contribution U of T has made is the Climate Positive Energy Initiative, which focuses on collaborative research, training, and knowledge translation and promotion with the goal of ensuring that access to and production of energy is equitable. As a research-focused initiative, it can be highly effective for informing policies and plans for future climate action.
Throughout their planned and current actions, it is imperative that the federated colleges and the university as a whole make transparency and communication a priority to hold integrity within the communities they serve. As students, the biggest form of action we can take is demanding accountability, and it is essential that institutions are unambiguous in giving it to us.
Urooba Shaikh is a second-year student majoring in molecular biology and minoring in public law and psychology at UTSC. Shaikh is a Comment-in-Brief columnist for The Varsity’s Comment section.