(photo by Ken Jones)

Presidential advisory committee on divestment from fossil fuels

They’ve spent months interviewing and consulting researchers, activists and other members of the U of T community, studying scholarly reports and opinions, and reviewing hundreds of pages of submissions.

Now, the members of a committee charged with making recommendations to President Meric Gertler on the issue of divesting from energy companies involved in fossil fuels are beginning the final stages of their deliberations.

“Our committee is meeting regularly and intensely, and considering all input received,” said Professor Bryan Karney, chair of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Divestment from Fossil Fuels.  

The committee had put out a call for submissions earlier in the year with a deadline of Sept. 30  but later extended the deadline to Oct. 14. 

After almost a year in active consultation – including meetings with such groups as Toronto 350.org and The University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation – it is expected to make recommendations to Gertler by the year’s end.

Karney, who also serves as chair of the Division of Environmental Engineering & Energy Systems and associate dean of cross-disciplinary programs in the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, said members are diverse in background, and are “impressively keen, well informed, and engaging in this crucial debate with tremendous intellectual integrity.”

The committee of 10 includes faculty members from law, medical biophysics, philosophy, economics, political science and earth sciences as well as student, staff and alumni representatives. When he established the committee, Gertler encouraged all interested parties to make their views known, adding that great care was taken in choosing the advisory committee. 

“The members bring significant academic and research expertise to the committee,” said Gertler.  “Their work is guided by the same rigour and commitment to academic freedom that the members employ in all of their teaching and research.”

The issue of divestment is being examined by universities and institutions around the world. (Read a Globe and Mail article on the subject.) Gertler struck the advisory committee last November after Toronto350.org, a student-led group, submitted a petition under the terms of the University’s Policy on Social and Political Issues With Respect to University Divestment, calling on the university to “fully divest from fossil fuel companies within the next five years” and to immediately stop investing any new money in the industry.

Student representatives of the Toronto350 movement, widely regarded as committed and articulate activists, helped organize a rally on the downtown Toronto campus on Oct. 29 to draw attention to the issue. It was attended by an estimated 150 people.

An open letter signed by more than 200 faculty members was also published earlier this week, calling on the university to divest from “direct stock holdings in the world's 200 fossil fuel companies with the largest reserves of coal, oil, and gas within the next five years.”  Although the deadline for submissions had already passed, the committee acknowledged the letter and said it would take it into consideration.

Once the committee makes its recommendation, it will be up to the president to make the final decision on divestment. 

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