Last year’s wildfires and floods in British Columbia and droughts in the Prairies reminded us that climate change remains one of the greatest long-term threats that we face. Mitigating its most detrimental effects will require a substantial shift in how we live, work, and invest so that the carbon emissions that cause global warming are reduced.
The University of Ottawa is following through on commitments to making environmental sustainability a core tenet of its long-term investment portfolio strategy by announcing that it will divest all its direct equity fossil fuel holdings by 2023 and all indirect holdings by 2030.
“We owe it to future generations to do everything we can today to mitigate the effects of climate change while we can still have an impact,” said uOttawa President Jacques Frémont. “This decision goes hand in hand with our overall commitments to reducing our carbon footprint on campus. I thank the many students who advocated for the important steps we are taking. It is a great example of effective leadership on their part.”
In 2015, uOttawa became the first Canadian university to commit to publicly disclosing the carbon footprint of its portfolio when it signed the Montréal Carbon Pledge. In 2016, the Board of Governors followed up by approving the “Addressing Global Warming: The uOttawa Response” strategy, and in 2020 uOttawa joined 15 Canadian universities to sign the “Investing to Address Climate Change” charter. By signing the charter, the University agreed to measure and reduce the carbon intensity of its investments as well as incorporate ESG (environmental, social, and governance) indicators into its investment management practices. uOttawa’s investments in fossil fuel companies have since declined 89% to only 2% of its equity portfolio. Its carbon footprint measurement is 72% less than the market benchmark.
Since these commitments, uOttawa has increased its environmentally sustainable investments by $94 million, including $19 million in renewable energy, $64 million in low carbon equities, and $11 million in “green” bonds. As part of its announcement, the University has set a 10% target of the overall long-term portfolio to be committed to sustainable investments by the end of 2025.
Toward a more sustainable campus
In parallel, the University continues to make key decisions to reduce its carbon footprint on campus, like retrofitting its oldest buildings. It also ramped up its teaching and research on climate change and sustainable development. By 2025, half of all departments on campus will offer formative community service opportunities related to sustainability.
Supporting clean innovation
The University has long been a leader in innovative research to help accelerate the development of clean technologies and sustainable public policy. One of the largest concentrations of environmental law professors in academia conducts research and teaches from its Centre for Environmental Law and Global Sustainability (CELGS).
Another is the cross-faculty Institute for Science, Society and Policy’s (ISSP), which supports experiential learning and world-class research at the intersection of science, society, and policy. Yet another is the Institute of the Environment (IE), the University’s hub for environmental sustainability-related research, where environmental sustainability solutions are developed.
The University is also vying to strengthen its position as a leader in innovative research to help accelerate the development of clean technologies and sustainable public policy. To that end, it will match a $2 million investment from the Jarislowsky Foundation to create the new Jarislowsky Chair in Clean Economy and Innovation. The Chair will work to advance our understanding of the role that humans play in climate change, how it affects communities and economies around the world, how it changes our Canadian landscape and what it means for the millions of species that make up our ecosystems. Its researchers will be strong advocates for transformative change.
These initiatives further cement uOttawa’s dedication to the transformational changes the planet needs.