By Johanne Adam
In spring 2016, the University of Ottawa was wondering how it could make its own contribution to the fight against climate change, and thus, encourage a greener Canadian economy. In response to a campaign on campus, the Board of Governors asked the University to adopt a holistic approach, believing it to be the best way to ensure that solutions could move forward.
This has allowed the University to take a multi-pronged approach to tackling the problem. “Not only are we providing a model for managing our investment portfolio, our operations and our facilities, but we’re also taking the lead in research relating to climate and environmental problems, and educating the green leaders of tomorrow,” says Jacques Frémont, president and vice-chancellor of the University.
The University has many resources that enable it to play a key role in implementing solutions to the problems caused by climate change. Its first annual report, presented by Frémont, describes the main concrete measures taken by the University.
The economic and political consequences of climate change, including such factors as the impact of global warming on agricultural production and the manifold potential risks to human health, are now clear. Efforts to raise awareness on campus, along with classroom and lab activities, can address these issues.
For example, the Institute of the Environment offers an interdisciplinary master’s of environmental sustainability program, covering key issues such as climate change, pollution, natural resource exploitation and overexploitation, and biodiversity loss. The institute will offer a doctoral program in this area starting in 2018–2019.
And of course, there are programs closely linked to climate change offered by the faculties of Arts, Engineering and Science.
Many professors are involved in research focusing on climate change and its consequences. Their teams, made up of students, postdoctoral fellows and technicians, have managed to obtain millions of dollars in grants from governments, large companies and private foundations.
These researchers are working to find innovative solutions to fight climate change or limit its most harmful effects. Their work will ultimately allow decision makers to make informed choices on environmental issues.
The University has also created a Clean Innovation Research Fund (CIRF), with $10 million in seed money. The goal of the fund is to encourage a series of new research initiatives dealing with the environment and climate change.
This fund has already allowed the University to receive research grants from the federal government, including two from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program.
It is expected that by 2020, the University will have easily exceeded its commitment to invest $1.5 million in the fund. This major sum, along with external donations and government grants, should have a significant impact on Canada’s capacity to be an international actor in the shared fight against climate change and environmental deterioration.
The Finance and Treasury Committee has put in place initiatives to gradually eliminate investments in fossil fuels from its holdings. It has also established a framework to measure the results of this shift on an annual basis.
These initiatives have already borne fruit, as the University’s long-term portfolio equity carbon footprint has been reduced considerably, from 202.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide per $1 million (CO2e/M$) in 2015 to 79.0 tonnes of CO2e/M$ in 2016.
Additionally, there are the many programs that help create an environmentally friendly campus. Some have already enabled us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and fossil fuel consumption despite a growing University infrastructure and population.
“In pursuing these initiatives, the University will be able to build on its achievements, to leave a sustainable legacy for future generations,” says Frémont.