Climate strike
Let’s elaborate on climate change. Photo: Matt Gergyek/Fulcrum.
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What is the university doing exactly?

Canada’s fossil fuel resources are one of the world’s most engaging hotspots for investment and development. However, they significantly contribute to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which further drives climate change. 

What types of changes have been made to combat such an issue? One of the current movements is the ‘fossil fuel divestment,’ a growing campaign that fights against climate change.  

At the University of Ottawa, student-run group Fossil Free uOttawa, ran a fossil fuel divestment campaign from 2013-2017 that was initially rejected by the U of O Board of Governors (BOG). In 2016, the group was able to push the university to compile a report through its Finance and Treasury Committee.

Now, Climate Justice uOttawa (CJUO), is taking the initiative with a petition (co-written by Carleton University’s Climate Action Carleton) to push proactive changes for the University of Ottawa to divest from the fossil fuel industry to reinvest into green alternatives by 2025. 

CJUO has also joined the Divest Canada Coalition along with 30 other universities to hold universities responsible for fully divesting from the fossil fuel industries. Others include Carleton University, University of Toronto, and University of Winnipeg.

“Climate change is an immediate and pressing issue that can no longer be ignored and that there needs to be a drastic change in the way humans interact with the environment,” said Erica Leighton, an organizer of CJUO. 

“We can no longer push the climate crisis behind us to deal with another time. The era of gradual change is long gone, and we must demand progressive climate initiatives from our leaders today.”

Compared to other countries, Canada is falling behind in the process of divestment as many universities in both the United States and United Kingdom have already committed to full divestment.

In particular, the University of California is one school that has fully divested and over 50 per cent of United Kingdom schools have signed to divest.

Timeline of events at U of O

In the University of Ottawa’s statement on addressing global warming on April 25, 2016, the BOG asked for a multitude of adaptations. “The Board rejected the idea of divestment as an insufficient response on its own to the climate challenges we face,” read the statement.

“The Board has, however, asked its Finance and Treasury Committee to develop a strategy to shift uOttawa’s fossil fuel-related investments over time towards investments in enterprises, especially in Canada, involved in creating and selling technologies of the future.” 

In 2017-18 the university released Action on Climate Change by the University of Ottawa, another report in regards to climate change.

“The University of Ottawa is not only a leading research institution, but also a responsible investor and community partner, and as such, it has vowed to reduce its carbon footprint by at least 30 per cent by 2030 in accordance with Canada’s national climate commitment,” it read.

The report did not mention about the divestment actions or plans to be carried out to 2030. Furthermore, a similar situation is happening with the Canadian government.

Currently, CJUO, in conjunction with Climate Action Carleton, has already presented an open letter and a petition to the U of O and Carleton University administrations.

“The University of Ottawa and Carleton University are Canada’s capital universities. Divestment would send a much-needed wake-up call to the federal government, Canadian industry, other Canadian schools, and the general public about the urgent reality of fossil fuels,” the open letter reads.

Ongoing Research

On Nov. 19, Canada announced their net-zero emission plan which should be accomplished by 2050 but there has not been a concrete plan for the current 2030 goal of cutting greenhouse gas emission more aggressively.

However, the issue is a complex one. Darlene Himick, a professor from the Telfer School of Management, researches the divestment movement. At this time, she is collecting data from around the world about the presence of movements at universities and other institutions.

“This is an important global movement, but also very complex as divestment is one of a range of options that large investors have pursued,” said Himick. “For instance some investors believe that they are better off staying invested to influence the direction of those companies.”

In Himick’s current research efforts, she and her team are examining the strategies surrounding the mobilization of the divestment issue. 

“We are trying to see how the investors respond to this pressure or whether investors even make the decisions without pressure. We have noticed that the movements do not all have the same successes and the same responses, and so we’re trying to understand how different messaging plays into that,” Himick said.

Himick also explained how she and her team were developing a database to collect information and be able to analyze climate change initiatives. 

“For instance, on campuses, divestment campaigns are often part of a broader move towards a sustainable campus. Bates College in the U.S., for example, purchases renewable heating fuel from Ensyn, a company based right here in Ottawa, to help it move to carbon-neutral energy,” she said. 

“Our database will try to track how divestment becomes part of broader climate campaigns. The platform when done will be open to the public and hopefully it will be a resource for anyone interested in this topic.”

Thus, better predictors and immediate change is needed for institutions to combat climate change as it is an urgent issue.