The U of T community is awaiting U of T president Meric Gertler’s potentially historic decision to act on calls for the university to divest in fossil fuel financial investment.
Last month, the U of T advisory committee on the divestment from fossil fuels advised Gertler to conduct targeted divestment from companies “whose actions blatantly disregard the international effort to limit the rise in average global temperatures to not more than one and a half degrees Celsius”.
In a press release issued last month by Toronto350—an advocacy group lobbying the university to divest in fossil fuels, leading to the establishment of an ad hoc committee responsible for advising Gertler on the issue—the group praised committee recommendations but called on further action by the university.
“This recommendation is a huge achievement for the fossil fuel divestment movement globally and in Canada,” read the statement. “President Gertler should also take action for communities who are harmed by climate change and fossil fuel extraction. These communities are not sufficiently recognized in the committee’s recommendation.”
Amanda Harvey-Sanchez, a second-year U of T student and divestment campaign leader at U of T350, a chapter of the Toronto350, calls these communities “frontline communities”, referring to Indigenous peoples and “low-income families or other marginalized groups who are either impacted first or less able to adapt [to climate change]”.
“We want to work with frontline communities and start a dialogue about how they would like to see their struggles with the fossil fuel industry addressed in terms of divestment at U of T, and how we can best support them,” said Harvey-Sanchez, who added that it is the university’s responsibility to implement these changes.
“U of T has a lot of amazing faculty producing research on climate change, Indigenous rights, and other social issues. That research clearly shows that we need to take stringent action to combat climate change and respect Indigenous land rights. For our university to go against what its faculty is saying doesn’t make sense,” she says.
In opposition to the recommendation to divest, fourth-year St. George student Matthew Lau recently wrote an op-ed against UTSU’s involvement in the lobbying of the university to divest from fossil fuels.
“The campaign to have the University of Toronto completely divest from the fossil fuel industry, pointing to official endorsements from the [UTSU] and the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union, claims to have the support of more than 64,000 students,” Lau writes, saying that “many” students hold opposing views.
Lau’s article “Let Students Divest from Student Union”, published in the Financial Post, argued that “restricting the investment decisions cannot possibly improve the performance of U of T’s investment portfolio”, and that by fully divesting from fossil fuels, the university runs a risk of higher tuition fees and services due to the reduction of investment revenue.
The Medium has not verified these claims.
“If a portfolio’s performance could be enhanced by divesting from fossil fuels, the University of Toronto and other investors would have done so already out of financial interest,” wrote Lau.
When asked if he has approached UTSU with his concerns, Lau told The Medium he has no intention of doing so.
According to Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of media relations at U of T, it is unknown when Gertler’s final decision will be announced.