Later this autumn, decision-makers from around the world will gather in Glasgow for the next United Nations Climate Change Conference. Their goal is to ensure fulfilment of the Paris Agreement – to achieve a net-zero increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming, preferably to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The need to do so could not be more urgent.
Our alumni and friends can take pride in the fact that the University of Toronto continues to set an example by doing our part, as Canada’s leading institution of higher education and advanced research. This tri-campus, interdisciplinary effort is being co-ordinated by the President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change, and Sustainability, co-chaired by Professor John Robinson and Ron Saporta, chief operating officer, property services and sustainability (St. George campus).
Our students are encouraged to become leaders in the field by following the pathways identified in our searchable databases of U of T’s huge range of sustainability-related courses, community-engaged learning opportunities and co-curricular activities. They have also undertaken more than 200 “living lab” sustainability projects, both on and off campus.
On the research front, the percentage of U of T scholarly publications touching on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals has increased remarkably in recent years. In 2018, our scholars produced more such papers than those of any other university in the world, after Harvard.
U of T is also providing outstanding leadership through our operations, investments and external relations. Once again this year, U of T is one of Canada’s Greenest Employers. We are steadily implementing our Low-Carbon Action Plan, to reach our 2030 tri-campus emissions reduction target of 37 per cent below 1990 levels. And our St. George campus has committed to becoming climate-positive by 2050, meaning it will be a net “sink” of greenhouse gases.
The University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) has reduced the carbon footprint of our pension and endowment assets by 37 per cent (as of December 31, 2020). As UTAM approaches its initial decarbonization target of 40 per cent well ahead of schedule, it will soon identify even more ambitious goals.
Since climate change also requires multilateral action, U of T is a founding member of the U7+ Alliance of World Universities, a global coalition of university presidents, and the University Climate Change Coalition, a group of leading North American research universities. U of T is also a key participant in the Green Will Initiative, to support the City of Toronto in reaching its own emissions target.
Climate change will impact the world profoundly for centuries to come. The good news is that we can still take decisive action, if we work together. And, while much remains to be done, the U of T community is helping to show the way.