UWOFA urges Western to place climate action at the core of the next Strategic Plan

UWOFA sent the following recommendation to the university's Strategic Planning Steering Committee. The Board of Directors would like to thank Dr. Katrina Moser (Geography) for consultation.

Introduction

The consequences of human-induced warming, including disappearing arctic sea ice, more frequent and intense wildfire seasons, loss of glacier ice and worsening droughts in the semi-arid tropics, are now occurring. It is imperative that individuals, institutions, cities, and countries take major actions to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Universities have a responsibility to be leaders in times of crisis. As we face the climate crisis, universities can play a unique part in role-modelling innovative and multidimensional solutions to reduce GHG emissions, as well as providing transformative education to train, inform, engage and inspire our future leaders and others to make effective and equitable change. Western has identified seven themes to its developing Strategic Plan and taking significant and concrete actions to mitigate climate change will add focus and drive to each one.

What is climate change and why should we be concerned?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a special report in 2018 declaring that global warming of more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels will cause an increase in hot extremes in many places and a change in the distribution of water resources with heavy precipitation increases in some regions and droughts in others. Sea level rise will put low-lying coastal areas at risk, including some of the most populous regions of the planet. Accelerated biodiversity loss and extinction is expected. Rising ocean temperatures and acidification will jeopardize marine ecosystems and fisheries that are already at a tipping point. Risks to livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth will increase. Keeping global warming to 1.5°C or less is necessary to limit these and other adverse consequences, promote sustainable development, and reduce global inequalities. Temperatures have already risen 1°C above pre- industrial levels and the increase is predicted to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2050 if emissions continue to increase at the current rate. To limit global warming to 1.5 °C or less, global GHG emissions must be 45% less than 2010 levels by 2030 and net 0 by 2050. This must be Western's minimum target.

Recommendation from UWOFA to the Western Strategic Planning Steering Committee (SPSC)

UWOFA is recommending that climate change action be at the core of Western’s new strategic plan. This will require a strengthened, data-driven strategy for reducing Western’s GHG emissions, one that is critical to preserving a healthy Earth for the entire Western community and future generations.

Western's GHG emissions goals and climate change action

Reaching Western’s minimum goal of reducing GHG’s by 45% within this decade requires refinement of our emissions targets, immediate action and accurate and consistent accounting and reporting, along with accountability. Between 2009 and 2018 Western reported a reduction of 2.1% and from 2011 to 2018 a 1.4% reduction of its GHG emissions (Western’s annual energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions to the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development, and Mines, here). It is reported in some Western documents, however, that GHGs have been reduced by 12% (see for example, here) but this number likely takes into account growth at Western and is reported in GHG/m2. It is, however, total emissions that matter, not emissions per unit area. To meet its sustainability commitments, Western needs to reduce its annual GHG emissions by 45% of 2010 levels of ~50,000 tCO2e (approximate value of average of 2009 and 2012 values; 2010 values were not available) to 27,500 tCO2e by 2030, and 0 tCO2e by 2050. This change will take a sustained and long-term commitment and effort by the entire Western community - students, staff, faculty and upper administration; a goal best sustained in a Strategic Plan.

These are ambitious emission reduction targets, and one important solution to reducing our carbon footprint is comprehensive retrofitting of the built environment. This provides opportunities for the development of innovative technologies and climate change education. Such plans, however, also need to be coupled with emissions accounting to provide evidence that planned changes will allow us to achieve our commitments. Transforming Western into a national leader for climate change action should be an overarching goal of the new Strategic Plan. Committed action includes being transparent about what has been done and what needs to be done, setting realistic and meaningful targets with specific short-term goals, reporting and accountability.

Concluding Remarks

If Western is to meet the challenge of being a community leader in climate change and sustainability, committed action on GHG emissions must commence immediately and be communicated transparently in a data-driven series of objectives with built-in costs for failure to meet milestones. The city of London has declared a climate emergency and Western must commit to not only do our part but take on a leadership role in our community and beyond. Western students are already dedicated to making change and have prepared first-rate reports and statements asking the university for climate change action. These documents include many excellent ideas for reducing GHGs. For example, protecting and restoring biodiversity helps to reduce carbon emissions by increasing the uptake of carbon by healthy ecosystems; supporting public transportation and active transportation reduces scope 3 emissions. But more is needed within a university-wide embrace of these goals and a uniform measurement standard for monitoring progress. As a leading research and education institution in Canada, Western needs to show its community and the world that it will get to net 0 emissions. The next generation is demanding immediate change. We have the privilege, resources, and intelligence to make it happen.