As It Happens

U of T president rejects calls to divest from fossil fuel industry

The school has said no to calls to get rid of its investments in the fossil fuel industry. University of Toronto president Meric Gertler says he believes there may be more effective ways of reducing Canada's greenhouse gas emissions.
Students at the University of Toronto at a rally. On Wednesday, President Meric Gertler (right) rejected calls for the school to divest from its holdings in the fossil fuel industry. (MILAN ILNYCKYJ/PROVIDED)
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It looked as though the University of Toronto was on the cusp of divesting its holdings in the fossil fuel industry -- a first for a Canadian university. But in a surprise announcement Wednesday, the school's president, Meric Gertler, said the school has no plans to divest.

He told As It Happens host Carol Off that there are more effective ways to "save the planet" — and divestment isn't necessarily the answer.

"What we've decided to do is come forward with a plan that is actually going to make a difference," he says.

At a divestment rally in October 2015, students and community members from the University of Toronto urge the school to rid itself of holdings in the fossil fuel industry. (MILAN ILNYCKYJ)

Gertler's announcement shocked many environmental activists and students at U of T, who had been urging the university to divest from fossil fuels for years. In December, an advisory committee, established by Gertler himself, had recommended the school go ahead with divestment. It became known worldwide as the "Toronto Principle."

But three months after the recommendations were released, Gertler says he's concluded there are better ways for U of T to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

"We're actually a pretty small player in the investment market, but we're a big university with a lot of depth and resources and we can actually have a huge impact by doubling down on research and education focused on addressing the challenges of climate change," he says.

He added the school could also "shrink its own carbon footprint as an organization."

Gertler doesn't support a blanket divestment policy on fossil fuel companies, but he says it could be considered on a "firm by firm basis." 

"Look, just because a firm happens to be on the blacklist today doesn't mean it can't move to the green list tomorrow, if it changes the way it does its business. That's what I mean by taking a dynamic approach."

The initial response from divestment organizers was disappointment. In a statement, Toronto350.org wrote, "[Our] school should not be trying to profit from the oil sands and fracking companies that are actively thwarting progress on climate change."

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