Western announced the renewal of their sustainability committee, but student groups calling for the university to recommit to their climate goals said the move is "exciting, but not enough."
The president’s Advisory Committee on the Environment and Sustainability guides Western University's environmental strategy. The committee will restart in December after renewal on Nov. 10, under the leadership of vice-president operations and finance, Lynn Logan, and out-going provost, Andrew Hrymak.
The committee was initially dissolved last February after “the departure of key team members” and “the rise of the global pandemic," according to Logan.
Student leaders of the Climate Crisis Coalition have been calling on Western to "take its climate goals seriously" after many were put on hold with the pandemic.
The CCC is a collective of students from Envirowestern, Student Energy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other student clubs with the shared goal of immediate climate action. The CCC has advocated for the renewal of PACES for over a year.
Zamir Fakirani, Social Science Student Council president and member of Student Energy, a signatory group of the CCC, called the renewal a small victory for student leaders passionate about climate action and “a clear example of what happens when students come together and make their voices heard to create change and make ‘good trouble.’”
But, he said “tangible action is still required," citing how Western has “let students down in the past."
In 2012, the university established a five-year goal to reduce emissions by 15 per cent relative to 2009 levels. By the deadline in 2017, there was only a reduction of 7.8 per cent.
Gareth Gransaull, another member of the Climate Crisis Coalition agreed renewing the committee was an important step, “but not nearly enough.”
“PACES needs to be empowered to be more than a committee,” said Gransaull. “There is currently no vice-president of sustainability — just a team."
Western has since introduced a special advisor role for sustainability and partnerships, which provost Andrew Hrymak will transition to in the winter term.
“Buy-in from key administrators, particularly those who set the budget for the university, is key, rather than just people who execute the budget, because sustainability efforts need the organizational resources to be successful," he said.
Gransaull said Western should make good on its 2012 goals, but also recognize that the definition of sustainability is changing a lot, even from 2012. Notably, the CCC wants to see Western divest their endowment from fossil fuels.
Western's endowment — around $1 billion — is invested in a series of mutual funds, equities and bonds. Several of the funds Western invests in directs the money towards fossil fuel companies.
Western is "not able to quite yet commit" on divesting from fossil fuel holdings, according to Logan, who also said it is too early to comment on whether PACES still agrees with its commitment to being zero waste by 2022 or if the university will follow CCC recommendations and aim to be carbon neutral by 2040.
Logan said the university is currently "working on meeting its 2030 goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels."
“With the hundreds of thousands of dollars in endowment funds from Western students’ tuition fees, sustainability should be embedded deeper into all programs," said Gransaull. “Western needs to make up for lost time but also go beyond.”
Logan confirmed however that investments into sustainability is not on the mandate of PACES.
“Most of the response was positive and the team overwhelmingly did not see a lot of negative," she said. “The committee should be given a bit of time, at least one year before commenting on its effectiveness."
Fakirani hopes that PACES is more than just “lip service to appease the growing number of students," and hopes to see actionable change from the university through this initiative.
Correction (Dec. 8, 2020, 6:39 p.m.): This article was corrected to reflect that Zamir Fakirani is not a member of CCC, but rather an executive of Student Energy, a club which is a signatory of CCC's advocacy.