Agreeing to greening

Campus group criticizes climate change document

Daniel Myran, Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change co-director, says the Council of Ontario Universities document doesn’t set specific targets on climate change.
Daniel Myran, Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change co-director, says the Council of Ontario Universities document doesn’t set specific targets on climate change.
Credit: 
Journal file photo

Yesterday, Queen’s joined 18 other universities in signing the Council of Ontario Universities (COU) climate change agreement.

Titled Ontario Universities: Committed to a Greener World, the document was endorsed by all COU member institutions and outlines the commitment to make each university’s operations more sustainable.

“Our universities accept this special responsibility on three scores: to assist in finding solutions to the challenges of environmental sustainability; to share knowledge about sustainability and climate change; and to incorporate, wherever possible, principles of sustainability into our own operations,” the agreement says.

Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane said the agreement has been in the works for the past 12 months.

Senior administrators from Queen’s, including Principal Daniel Woolf, were involved in its development, he said.

Deane said to help the University become more sustainable, the Queen’s Sustainability Advisory Committee (QSAC) was formed. QSAC includes some of Queen’s top researchers on the environment, who guide the University in its policies and future decisions and advise the principal on future agreements Queen’s could sign.

“Their role is to advise the University administration on a range of issues,” he said.

Deane said he sees the COU document as the first step in a series of progressively more binding documents.

“It’s a statement of philosophy rather than an articulation of specific goals,” he said.

One of the agreements Queen’s is considering signing is the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which requires signatories to pledge to achieve carbon neutrality in a set period of time. So far, Confederation College is the only Canadian institution that has signed the ACUPCC.

“They’re all very similar; they’re sort of a progressive declaration of the same sort of statements,” Deane said. “The leadership universities can show, I think, is really important. … This is an area in which I think we can continue to contribute and make a difference.”

One of the AMS executive’s campaign promises was to get Queen’s to sign the ACUPCC or pay $3,000 of their salaries to the AMS.

“If Principal Woolf has not signed the ACUPCC by the end of our term, we would honour our commitment to students and give back $3,000,” AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Adam Zabrodski said in an e-mail to the Journal.

Daniel Myran, Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change (QBACC) co-director and ArtSci ’10, said QBACC doesn’t endorse the COU document.

“I believe it’s an attempt by the Ontario universities to greenwash their image,” Myran said, adding that he’s disappointed the COU didn’t seek any student feedback on the document.

Myran said QBACC members are frustrated with the lack of specific targets on climate change.

“We know for a fact it’s a very useless commitment,” he said. “Any commitments that it makes are extremely watered down.”

Queen’s should focus its attentions on more ambitious climate change accords, Myran said, adding that the President’s Climate Initiative is an agreement that includes binding targets he thinks the University should consider signing onto.

QBACC member Nate Jackson, ArtSci ’10, told the Journal via e-mail he sees Committed to a Greener World as an empty gesture.

“The COU commitment is filled with rhetoric and platitudes that are not worth the paper they are written on. ... The COU fails to mention climate change or greenhouse gases in their actual commitments.

“Although Principal Daniel Woolf has stated that he is committed to doing better than the COU, the bar has been set so low that anything above and beyond the COU commitment will be seen as a positive step (even if it is grossly insufficient).”

Jackson said QBACC wants Woolf to set meaningful goals toward making the University more sustainable.

“We sincerely hope Woolf will follow through on his promise to attack this issue—an issue students care deeply about—with a coherent and viable strategy to reduce CO2 emissions on campus.”

To read Ontario Universities: Committed to a Greener World, go to cou.on.ca.

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