U of T sustainability leaders head to Dubai for COP28 climate summit


The 28th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Dubai, runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 (photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Sustainability leaders from the University of Toronto are among the thousands of world leaders, legislators and climate activists attending COP28 in Dubai this year – highlighting the university’s commitment to advancing sustainability and research on a global scale.

Beginning Nov. 30 and running until Dec. 12., the 28th annual United Nations Climate Change Conference will feature numerous discussions, presentations and other events aimed at mitigating and adapting to the ever-evolving challenges of climate change.

That includes several panels hosted by U of T’s Climate Positive Energy Initiativean institutional strategic initiative that supports sustainable energy and climate change initiatives across the university and beyond – and a roundtable discussion, evening reception and a networking event hosted by the U of T President’s Advisory Committee on the Environment, Climate Change & Sustainability (CECCS).

Kristy Faccer, director of CECCS, says the committee is activating the university’s "third mission" – after education and research – by taking action on climate change and sustainability.

“At COP28, CECCS is meeting with Network and higher education leaders that are already involved in the global dialogue and innovating on climate, but so far are largely doing so with an ‘outside-in’ focus and operating in a largely uncoordinated manner outside of their own networks,” she says. 

“As co-convenor of the Network of Networks and roundtable at COP28, CECCS is turning this conversation ‘inside-out’ to work with leaders on how and where we can move the dial together, not by setting out a direction and next steps for one institution, or one network, but potentially thousands of institutions around the world, for the sector, and critically, with partners where it is needed most.”

The CECCS roundtable discussion on Dec. 8 – an invite-only event co-hosted by Faccer – will feature remarks from the past COP26 president and UN Climate Change High-Level Champion as well as the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), UN Climate Champions, U7+ Alliance of World Universities and the International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN). An invite-only reception in the evening of Dec. 8 with a keynote from the co-president of the Club of Rome will also be co-hosted by CECCS.

The panel discussion topics hosted by the Climate Positive Energy Initiative, meanwhile, will focus on everything from addressing gaps in climate innovation to the role of universities in ensuring no one is left behind in the transition to a net-zero future.

On Dec. 8, a panel moderated by Shatha Qaqish-Clavering, director of strategy and operations at Climate Positive Energy, will focus on Western Canada’s plans to tackle climate change – in particular, the challenges and opportunities around meeting net-zero emissions reduction targets by 2050.

“We will focus on clean energy innovation in Alberta and Saskatchewan,” Qaqish-Clavering says. “Our hope is that this conversation can inspire global collaboration, spark ideas for scalable solutions in other climates and countries, and foster shared optimism towards a clean and equitable energy transition worldwide.”

A side event panel on Dec. 9 will discuss how universities are working with communities and industry to support 2050 net-zero emission reductions targets, with Qaqish-Clavering co-moderating and sharing U of T’s efforts. She says she intends to highlight U of T’s plans for a Grid Modernization Centre in Ontario, which would be the first of its kind in Canada and would see the university convene more than 50 industry partners to accelerate the adoption of renewable technologies into the grid. In addition to discussing innovation, policy-building and strategic partnerships, the panelists will also explore universities’ efforts to promote social justice, equity and youth leadership.

A third panel – also moderated by Qaqish-Clavering – on Dec. 10 will focus on how universities can help communities and industry realize a net-zero future. That includes questions around adoption of new innovations, the gaps between universities and society more broadly on climate action and the role of fundamental and applied research in the field.

Finally, on Dec. 11 – the same day that CECCS will co-host a networking event which will include guests from different universities – Qaqish-Clavering will participate on a panel about the role of academic institutions in a low-carbon transition organized by Kleinman Center for Energy Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Qaqish-Clavering says participating in COP28 showcases the university’s commitment to being a leader on climate change and sustainability.

“The university is a global leader in climate research, and established the Climate Positive Energy Initiative to unite our climate and sustainability research experts so that we can work together towards achieving a net-zero future,” she says.

“One of CPE’s goals is to help Canada become a global clean-energy model. Having CPE at COP28 allows us to showcase some of the research that is underway to transform our energy systems – and to bring forward future collaboration opportunities that can support equitable clean energy solutions not only in Canada, but around the world.”

U of T’s collaborative approach to addressing climate change and other sustainability issues is longstanding. It is a member of ISCN and the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), and works to address global challenges such as climate change through the  U7+ Alliance of World Universities.

Emma Lecavalier, a PhD student in the Faculty of Arts & Science, is among four U of T students attending the conference. As a political scientist, she examines the role of transnational policy actors in promoting ambitious climate targets and building cities’ capacities to reach those targets.

At COP28’s Local Climate Action Summit, she plans to interview policymakers to inform her research.

“Attending the Local Climate Action Summit at COP28 will be a unique opportunity to observe the global dimensions of urban climate action,” she says.

Rohina Kabir, a master’s student studying European and Russian affairs at U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, says attending COP28 will allow her to connect with fellow researchers, governmental and non-governmental agencies, and technology companies engaged in climate change initiatives in Central Asia.

She hopes to uphold the commitment of leaving no one behind, with a specific focus on countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, Sudan and others.

“Climate change knows no boundaries,” Kabir says, “making it even more imperative to address these issues.”