Who we are
Divestment and Beyond at U of T is a growing movement dedicated to fossil fuel divestment and a socially just climate transition at the University of Toronto. We are a diverse coalition of staff, students, and faculty from all three campuses and from many movements and groups. We rely on an organic and non-hierarchical planning and decision making model that emphasizes consensus-making and anti-oppression approaches in our work.
This coalition emerged in the fall of 2019 in advance of the September Global Climate Strike. Our initial aim was to encourage the University of Toronto Administration to be more proactive in lending support to the strike and to members of the university community who wished to support it. We also shared broader commitments to institutional fossil fuel divestment, and to making the University an institutional leader in making our campuses models of sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, and social justice. After the strike, those involved decided to dedicate their efforts to building momentum toward these goals. We held two town hall style meetings in early 2020 designed to broaden our base and to shape an action agenda. We then decided to focus our efforts on convincing the Administration to declare a climate emergency at the U of T, to divest its financial holdings from fossil fuel companies, to commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and to orient itself towards climate justice (broadly defined) This is a broad coalition and movement, with active participation from across the University of Toronto community. We have regular participation from faculty, staff, and students from multiple academic units on all three campuses as well as from organizations such as Leap Chapter U of T, Climate Justice TO, and The List. We are always looking for new members and new ideas. If you would like to get involved, please write to DivestmentandBeyondUofT@gmail.com.
History of Divestment at UofT
In November 2014, following a petition from Toronto350.org calling on U of T to “fully divest from fossil fuel companies within the next 5 years and to immediately stop investing new money in the industry,” President Meric Gertler established an advisory committee on divestment from fossil fuels. This committee deliberated for a year, consulting with a range of stakeholders, and undertaking research on divestment initiatives and petitions at other universities and institutions.
In December 2015, the ad hoc committee released its report detailing its recommendations to President Gertler. In addition to arguing that the U of T should ramp up its academic and operational climate change related activities, the report called for divestment from firms whose “actions blatantly disregard the 1.5-degree threshold”, including those engaged in coal and bitumen mining and those that have knowingly disseminated disinformation on climate science. Writing in the Harvard Crimson, Ben Franta called this “The Toronto Principle”. The committee suggested that principled divestment would both satisfy the University’s fiduciary responsibilities and respond to the social injury concerns that arise from having investments in companies that contribute directly to climate change. The suggested conditions included divesting from fossil fuel companies whose activities make it impossible to credibly reach the 2 degree target enshrined in the Paris Agreement and those companies who have engaged in obfuscating climate science.
With the publication of this report and submission of recommendations to President Gertler, many were optimistic that the University of Toronto was on the verge of being the first Canadian University to divest its holdings in the fossil fuel industry. But in March of 2016, President Gertler, who has called climate change “one of the most pressing issues of our times,” rejected the recommendation, stating that divestment would have limited impact as “such firms only account for one-quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.“
President Gertler’s March 2016 rejection was detailed in a report titled “Beyond Divestment: Taking Decisive Action on Climate Change.” This is why we have called our coalition Divestment and Beyond. Our response to this report is no – we want divestment – but we also recognize more than divestment is required to tackle the immense challenge of climate change. Thus, we are Divestment and Beyond.
However, Divestment and Beyond is certainly not the first response to President Gertler’s March 2016 decision. Leap Chapter U of T was started by a group of students in late 2016 as a means of localizing the goals of the Leap Manifesto. Advocating for fossil fuel divestment continues to be a core part of their activism. In February 2017, the leaders of the United Steelworkers Local 1998, CUPE 1230, CUPE 3902 and APUS wrote this joint open letter to President Gertler on fossil fuel divestment. In July 2017, the Varsity published an op-ed encouraging a revisit of U of T’s divestment policy. Read it here. These are just a few small examples. Many of the activists involved in these initiatives are now part of Divestment and Beyond.
A more comprehensive history of the divestment movement at U of T is available here.
What is Divestment?
For information of Divestment, what it entails, and its impact on an institution’s carbon foot print, visit our Divestment FAQ’s page.