UVic among 15 universities adopting climate charter

- University of Victoria

The University of Victoria is among 15 Canadian universities signing a charter to address the global crisis of climate change. Under the Investing to Address Climate Change Charter, the universities pledge to follow responsible investment practices in ways to address this global challenge.

Climate change is recognized as one of the defining turning points facing humanity. It is a complex issue and as institutional investors, universities have an important role to play in responding to this global urgency and share a duty to manage their investments in ways that acknowledge and account for these developments. 

UVic’s campus community has demonstrated through actions and commitments a long-standing passion to respond to the climate crisis through its operations, research, learning and fiduciary responsibilities.

Climate change is leading to profound social, economic and environmental changes in Canada and around the world. Prudent practice requires institutional stewards to adopt processes that take into account material climate-related investment risks over the short and long term. Failure to do so may constitute a dereliction of fiduciary duty by investment managers, who have an obligation to serve the best long-term interests of beneficiaries.

This charter is just one of the many ways universities, including UVic, are working to address climate change. The signatory universities are also committed to playing a leadership role in addressing climate change to reduce the carbon footprint of their campuses.

UVic’s Board of Governors adopted a new policy in January 2020 governing the university’s short-term investments (currently $225 million) that places climate solutions at the centre of decision-making. The policy requires investment decisions to take into account climate-related impacts and risks, and it commits UVic to a 45 per cent reduction in the carbon footprint of investments by 2030 through divestment from the most carbon-intensive enterprises.

The policy proposes positive impact investments in initiatives that promote sustainable futures such as clean energy, low carbon housing and infrastructure, as well as continued engagement to promote responsible environmental, social and governance practices. Two working groups of experts on campus have been created and are meeting monthly to support both the carbon reduction and impact investing goals.

UVic’s operations and academic mission mirror this commitment to respond to climate change through dedicated action. A global impact ranking released in April 2020 by Times Higher Education (THE) evaluating universities’ contributions towards meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) puts UVic among the world’s top tier of leaders in climate action, and among the world’s top 100 institutions overall in contributing to a sustainable future for the planet.

THE ranked UVic fourth among the world’s universities for climate action—meaning research and action taken to understand and respond to the global challenge of climate change. The university registered global top 100 finishes in five of the eight SDGs in which it was ranked, including a #25 for “responsible consumption and production.”

UVic’s Climate and Sustainability Action Plan 2022-2026, currently under development, will provide an accelerated and integrated approach to respond to the climate crisis and to guide the university’s approach to sustainability in every domain of research, education, community engagement and campus operations.

The action plan will build upon UVic’s existing efforts towards sustainability and climate solutions in teaching, research, operations and community and government partnerships. It will expand and renew the university’s commitments in these areas including long-term strategies such as greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and climate adaptation and resiliency. Development of the plan, including a consultation and engagement process, will be resumed once the campus returns to full operations following a scaling back in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Long-term strategies are important to address the goals of UVic’s Strategic Framework and to align with government policies, such as the new BC Provincial Government CleanBC Plan and the United Nations IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5˚C.

The climate charter is a strong fit with UVic’s research strengths in climate and sustainability research. These coalesce around the more than 150 faculty members conducting related research in departments and faculties across campus. This activity is augmented by research entities such as the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions, Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium, Ocean Networks Canada, and Institute for Integrated Energy Systems UVic, and benefits from academic programming in environment, conservation, earth sciences and geography.

At UVic, more than 600 graduate and undergraduate courses address sustainability themes. New faculty positions, including two new Impact Chairs, have been established to further build UVic’s capacity to drive solutions. 

With these commitments, UVic has made responding to the climate crisis a central element in the stewardship of its financial assets, and has joined the global movement towards a new model of sustainable finance. The university is committed to continuing work and reporting to address the climate crisis and is continuing to engage with faculty, staff and students on responsible and impact investment practices.

The Investing to Address Climate Change Charter is intended to be inclusive and to complement the actions undertaken by other institutions in Canada wishing to join.


Investing to Address Climate Change:
A Charter for Canadian Universities

June 2020

Climate change is now recognized as one of the defining challenges facing humanity. It is already leading to profound social, economic and environmental changes in Canada and around the world. Universities have a responsibility to act constructively to address this challenge.

Indeed, by leveraging their many assets, universities can devise comprehensive strategies to address climate change. As educators, our teaching has the power to enhance understanding of the principles of sustainability. As knowledge producers across a wide range of disciplines, our research is essential in advancing knowledge about climate change and helping identify effective, evidence-based solutions. As major owners of property and facilities, we have an important opportunity to reduce the carbon emissions arising from our own operations. And, as stewards of long-term investments, we have a responsibility to manage our capital in ways that accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy and protect our stakeholders from the growing risks associated with climate change.

There is a growing consensus that climate change will have significant implications for investment management. Climate-related risks are now recognized as having material consequences for businesses in every corner of the economy, with regulators encouraging individual companies to disclose these risks in a more transparent and comprehensive way.[1] This development is part of a larger shift towards responsible investing, which takes into account a broad set of environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors.[2]

At the same time, those industries and businesses that are well-positioned to take advantage of the shift to clean, renewable energy and low-carbon economic activities present potentially attractive and more impactful investment opportunities. 

Prudent practice now requires institutional stewards of long-term investments to adopt processes that take into account material climate-related investment risks. Failure to do so may constitute a dereliction of fiduciary duty by investment managers, who have an obligation to serve the best long-term interests of beneficiaries.

Moreover, such a responsible investing approach will also foster the transition to a low-carbon economy, by directing capital to investments in promising areas that are poised to offer alternative, more sustainable solutions. Furthermore, by applying a responsible investing framework to their entire portfolio, investors ensure that the carbon-emitting behaviour of all businesses and sectors of the economy are subjected to equal and rigorous scrutiny.

Universities have a duty to manage their long-term investment portfolios in ways that acknowledge and account for these developments.  With these considerations in mind, the signatories to this charter pledge to abide by the following principles and practices, and encourage other Canadian universities to do the same:

  1. Adopt a responsible investing framework to guide investment decision-making, in line with recognized standards such as the UN-supported Principles of Responsible Investment (UN-PRI). Such a framework should:
    1. Incorporate ESG factors into investment management practices
    2. Encourage active engagement with companies to foster disclosure of ESG (including climate) related risks, and adoption of operational practices that reduce carbon emissions and foster ESG-positive behaviour more broadly
  2. Regularly measure the carbon intensity of our investment portfolios, and set meaningful targets for their reduction over time
  3. Evaluate progress towards these objectives on a regular basis, and share the results of such assessments publicly
  4. Ensure that the performance evaluation of our investment managers takes into account their success in achieving such objectives, alongside the other criteria for assessing their performance

[1] Final Report: Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, Financial Stability Board, June 2017; Final Report of the Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance – Mobilizing Finance for Sustainable Growth, Government of Canada, 2019

[2] See for example https://utam.utoronto.ca/responsible-investing/https://mcgill.ca/boardofgovernors/files/boardofgovernors/13._gd19-29_camsr_report.pdf and https://www.cdpq.com/sites/default/files/medias/pdf/en/ra/id2018_rapport_investissement_durable_en.pdf

Signatories:

  • McGill University
  • University of Toronto
  • University of British Columbia
  • Dalhousie University
  • University of Guelph
  • Université Laval
  • University of Manitoba
  • McMaster University
  • Université de Montréal
  • University of Ottawa
  • Queen’s University
  • Simon Fraser University
  • University of Victoria
  • University of Waterloo
  • Western University

Advisory Committee:

  • Mark Carney
  • Pauline D’Amboise
  • Michael Sabia
  • Barbara Zvan

Photos

In this story

Keywords: administrative, climate

Publication: The Ring


Related stories