The University of Toronto took a big step forward in addressing the climate crisis last week with the announcement that it will divest its endowment portfolio from fossil fuel investments, and work toward a “climate positive” campus by 2050.
These are important steps, and I fully applaud the students, staff, and faculty who have been pushing for this for many years. U of T President Meric Gertler is correct to say that when large institutions such as U of T take these steps, it encourages others to follow.
However, in many ways, the announcement is disappointing, both in tone and substance. The president likes to talk about U of T as a ‘leader’ and, indeed, used that language in last week’s announcement. But the university could have fully divested from fossil fuel companies six years ago when its own expert advisory panel suggested targeted divestment. Six years ago, we could have led the way; now, we are a laggard.
Every delay means more carbon emissions, which contribute to further warming and further damage from climate impacts. Our students represent the generation who will have to live with the consequences of the climate crisis for most of their lives. At the very least, we owe them an apology for ignoring them and our own expert advice for so long.
The announcement also fails to acknowledge the well-documented role that the fossil fuel industry has played in deliberately undermining the work of climate scientists, including those at U of T, and in spreading misinformation to confuse the public and delay action on the climate crisis. In making fossil fuel investments up to now, the university has been violating its own policy by investing in firms that cause social injury. Quite simply, we have been funding a world-class educational institution through investments that directly undermine the very mission of universities.