UW responds to the climate crisis

From paper straws to the “Green New Deal” to the arrival of Greta Thunberg in North America, the climate crisis is a regular topic in the national and international media. But you might not know how UWaterloo is responding. Here’s a high-level overview about the status of the University’s responsible investing commitments, a faculty member’s role in the City of Kitchener declaring a climate emergency, and the September 27 global climate strike.

Responsible investing

Just over two years ago, partially in response to campaigning by Divest Waterloo, the University’s Board of Governors struck a Responsible Investing Working Group. That group spent a year researching the best ways to incorporate environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors into the University’s investment practices. As a result, in June 2018, the University added ESG factors into its investment decision processes. Earlier this year, Dennis Huber, Vice-President, Administration & Finance reported to the UW community that the University has been taking steps to:

  • include ESG capabilities in the criteria for selecting a new endowment fund investment manager;
  • require investment managers to explain how they reflect ESG practices in decision making;
  • evaluate the steps required to become a signatory to UN Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) in order to table a proposed implementation plan to Board of Governors later this year.

Climate emergency

A University of Waterloo faculty expert played a key role in the City of Kitchener’s recent decision to declare a climate emergency

Angela Carter delegating to Kitchener City Council.

In her remarks, political science professor Angela Carter cited some of the catastrophic global effects of the climate crisis that have already occurred before summarizing recent UWaterloo research, commissioned by local councils, that identified the core climate crisis impacts in the Waterloo Region. “To have some hope of reclaiming a stable climate,” said Carter, “we have to steeply decline emissions, arriving at zero by 2050.” She continued that the already enormous challenge of reaching zero emissions by 2050 is exacerbated by the Canadian government’s failure to implement policies that align with the country’s international emission reduction commitments. “So provincial and municipal governments need to step up all the more,” she argued.

Carter urged that the City not only take the important symbolic step of declaring a climate emergency, but give the declaration teeth by adopting a carbon budget that would set a limit on carbon emissions yearly or every two years (to meet long-term targets), and report on Kitchener’s performance, assessing whether the municipal government’s departments have stayed within the budget.

Developing a carbon budget is now considered a “key component” of climate action planning, for example by C40 Cities, an organization connecting 96 of the world’s largest cities that are taking bold action against climate change. Their Deadline 2020 blueprint provides a guide on how cities can implement a climate budget at the municipal level. (FYI: The first country to adopt a carbon budget was the UK in 2008, with cross-party support.)

After a lively debate, Council instructed municipal staff to research the carbon budget suggestion and report back at a future Council meeting for a decision then. Council unanimously declared a climate emergency.

Global climate strike

Inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s school strikes for climate, since this past spring local climate activists have been striking one Friday a month at noon at Waterloo Square. On September 27, this local strike will be part of a global climate strike. 

University of Waterloo organizers recently sent the following message to campus members:

Our home is on fire – let’s act like it. 

Children from around the world are calling on us to join them in the streets to demand a safe future.  A future free from more fire, drought, storms, flooding, famine. A future without climate chaos. Will we answer their call?

In what is shaping up to be the largest climate mobilization on the planet, on September 27 millions of people worldwide will be striking from school and work to demand that the climate crisis be confronted as an emergency.

And the University of Waterloo community will be there!

The organizers invite all members of the UWaterloo community to gather in the Arts Quad (outside Dana Porter Library) at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, September 27 and then proceed together to Waterloo Town Square for a series of events to draw awareness to the climate crisis (which will go until about 2:00 p.m.).

What if you have class during the climate strike?

We’re expecting some sort of official communication from senior administration about this soon, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, here’s what one dean has said (and administrators from other faculties have informally echoed):

Faculty and staff who plan to participate are requested to engage with their classes (e.g., provide educational materials in lieu of a lecture) and work teams (e.g., decide who will be available to cover off various functions) to ensure that education and services are not disrupted. Students are encouraged to make alternate arrangements (e.g., attending a different tutorial/lab class) ahead of time if they wish to participate in this global movement.

Added September 23: the dean of Arts sent this to faculty and staff:

All those who wish to participate in this climate action should feel free to do so, and I have asked Chairs and Directors to assist in ensuring that alternative arrangements be made in situations where mandatory activity (e.g., a class test) falls between 10:00 and 2:00.

FAUW is sponsoring the UW gathering, and members of the FAUW Indigenization Working Group will be attending. If you’d like to join them, look for the working group’s banner outside Modern Languages:

Members interested in exploring the role of faculty in addressing the climate crisis are also invited to an informal meetup hosted by FAUW and Angela Carter over the lunch hour on September 18.

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