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University is first Canadian school to sign Carbon Pledge

The University of Ottawa has become the first university in Canada to sign the Montreal Carbon Pledge, and the second in the world after the University of California.

The Montreal Carbon Pledge requires its signatories to measure and publicly disclose the carbon footprint of their investments each year. There is no cost in joining, but participants may have to pay if they decide to hire a provider to measure their emissions. While committing to the pledge doesn’t obligate participants to reduce their carbon footprint, it does encourage them to review the information.

Stewart Elgie, a professor at the U of O faculty of law specializing in environmental and natural resources law and policy, explains how the original goal of the initiative was to rally U.S. $3-trillion in global investment assets to commit to a reduction in carbon emissions.

The intention was to meet this goal by December 2015 for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. However, they’re set to hit around $8.5-trillion, nearly three times the initial target.

The conference also spurred the “100% Possible” climate marches around the world on Nov. 29. The protesters called on the world’s governments to switch to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2050. Around 1,700 such marches took place around the world, the one in Ottawa saw thousands of people attend.

“There are two goals I guess. One of them is to do the right thing and to do our part, to drive investment for low carbon future,” said Elgie.“The other is to set an example for other universities. We hope that by doing this it’ll challenge other universities to do the same.”

This pledge follows recommendations from a U of O-commissioned report by professor Tessa Hebb, an adjunct professor at Carleton University’s Sprott school of business.

The university will also continue with its other ongoing carbon-related commitments,  said Barbara Miazga, treasurer and director of pension fund at the U of O. This includes the Fossil Free uOttawa Campaign, which aims to have the university divest itself from fossil fuels.

Elgie commends the university’s overall efforts to tackle climate change. “The university made a commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by twice as much as Canada’s national targets, so we committed to reduce by 34 per cent between 2005 and 2020,” he said. “We’ve reduced emissions by 23 per cent in 10 years, so we’re on pace to get that 34 per cent reduction.”

However, he stresses the importance of decarbonizing their entire investment portfolio, not just those related to oil, gas or coal, and believes this pledge is a much more ambitious commitment in that direction.

“The key to tackling climate change will be reducing carbon emissions across the whole economy,” he said. “If you look at what drives climate change, it’s emissions from all of those sectors, not just oil and gas. Oil and gas are big ones, but you really have to decarbonize the entire economy,”

Elgie said this type of large investment of nearly $9-trillion dollars—around five times Canada’s total annual Gross Domestic Product—could be the example the global economy needs to seriously begin moving away from carbon emissions production.