McGill’s new Climate and Sustainability Strategy receives mixed reactions

After months of consultation spanning from January 2020 to September 2020, McGill’s new Climate and Sustainability Strategy (2020-2025) was endorsed by the McGill Board of Governors during their meeting on Dec. 10. The strategy addresses the three long-term goals of achieving a platinum sustainability rating by 2030, becoming zero-waste by 2035, and reaching carbon neutrality by 2040.

The new strategy was developed to carry out the goals of the prior Vision 2020 sustainability strategy while also tackling environmental issues through a new perspective. This new approach considers eight areas of importance through individualized flagship actions. The eight areas considered include research and education, buildings and utilities, waste management, travel, waste systems, procurement, landscapes and ecosystems, and community building.

Francois Miller, executive director of Sustainability at McGill, described McGill’s new sustainability strategy as ambitious, yet realistic in its aims.

“These are lofty goals that require the effort of all McGillians but, when attained, will transform our campuses for the better,” Miller said. “[The strategy] is also realistic as there are clear pathways to reach these high-end goals embedded within the strategy [….] In order to become zero-waste, we know that first and foremost we must expand reuse, recycling, and composting efforts across McGill campuses to give our staff, students and faculty members the tools they need to reduce what we send to landfill.”

Miller further emphasized the importance of reducing McGill’s environmental impact and the collective effort needed from members of the McGill community to pursue the strategy successfully.

“In order to achieve carbon neutrality, it’s important that we continue to improve the environmental performance of our buildings, which is [specified in] the Flagship Action for Buildings & Utilities category,” Miller said. “The objectives and actions described in the strategy will guide our steps over the next five years, moving us closer to reaching our targets, with the support of our entire community.”

Divest McGill, a student-led organization that advocates for McGill’s divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies, has a less optimistic outlook on the new strategy. Alexia Wildhaber-Riley, U2 Science, and Julius Geist, U2 Arts, outlined Divest McGill’s doubts in an email to the Tribune. 

“With a few commendable exceptions, McGill’s sustainability strategy is an exercise in greenwashing and creative accounting,” Wildhaber-Riley and Geist wrote. “McGill’s Strategy deliberately ignores emissions from its $50-million-dollar investments in the fossil fuel industry, so any target of ‘carbon neutrality’ is meaningless [and] self-aggrandizing. In addition, a tenth of their proposed reductions rely on carbon offsets and sequestration of questionable efficacy

Natasha Edmonds, U2 Arts and president of Liberal McGill, affirmed the organization’s support for the Climate and Sustainability Strategy. Edmonds highlighted how the university’s new strategy aligns with the Liberal government’s climate action plan: Canada’s Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act.

“Liberal McGill applauds this announcement by McGill University,” Edmonds said. “The goal of zero waste by 2035 and carbon neutrality by 2040 is, as the university affirms, ambitious yet realistic. This commitment complements the Liberal government’s own bold climate action plan. Thanks to the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, Canada will become a net-zero economy by 2050.”

Nathan Devereaux, U1 Arts and social coordinator at NDP McGill shared Liberal McGill’s enthusiasm but questioned whether this plan was truly enough action from McGill.  

“The NDP Club is happy to see McGill taking steps in the right direction,” Devereaux wrote in a message to the Tribune. “As an institution, McGill has the opportunity to be a leader in the fight against the climate crisis and has not always lived up to its potential. McGill’s Board of Governors voted against divesting from oil and gas stocks as recently as Dec. 5. So, while the NDP club is happy to see progress, we believe McGill could be doing more”

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