Queen's University — Since 1873
14th February 2012

Queen's behind on climate action plan

University has failed to meet conditions of important climate change pledge signed in 2010

According to renewable energy expert Joshua Pierce, Queen's must be carbon neutral by 2050.
According to renewable energy expert Joshua Pierce, Queen's must be carbon neutral by 2050. (Journal File Photo)

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Two years after signing an important climate change agreement, Queen’s has failed to meet certain conditions.

Queen’s was the second school in Ontario to sign the agreement, called the University and College President’s Climate Change Statement of Action for Canada. Now, 23 Canadian post-secondary institutions have signed the agreement.

The first part of the agreement was to create a planning body to set emission targets in accordance with each institution’s jurisdiction. This has been done with the Queen’s Sustainability Advisory Committee (QSAC), but the meeting times of the committee have started to dwindle.

The second action was to complete a comprehensive inventory of GHG emissions within one year. The results of this inventory not only proved useful from an economical standpoint but also brought recognition to Queen’s.

The University rated above average among all doctorate-granting universities on emissions per full-time equivalent students.

We also rated above average on emissions for every 1,000 square feet of floor space. This is in comparison to the average marks for institutions reporting GHG emissions under the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

But the most crucial part of the agreement was the climate action plan (CAP), a roadmap for Queen’s to achieve its climate targets that was supposed to be completed within two years of signing the original agreement in 2010.

The planning of the CAP should have commenced a long time ago and received the time, attention and funding it deserved. After much deliberation, the University decided to hire a consultancy firm to help with the process. Six firms were considered for the position and on Jan. 30 — less than a month before the CAP deadline — the contract with Delphi Group was announced.

To ensure that the project wouldn’t fall completely into external hands, a 22-member advisory committee was selected. Queen’s will be represented by four students, five faculty members and 13 staff. The administration and the Delphi Group are hoping for the CAP to be released this fall.

The content of the CAP is of vital importance. It will outline the academic, research and operations climate action goals, including the target date for achievement. It will also include detailed strategies and actions to make climate change a part of curriculum, expand University research on climate change and reduce GHG emissions.

Setting these goals will be the most important part of this agreement because it will reflect Queen’s commitment to the task at hand.

Many professors and students on campus share the belief that Queen’s must take real action on climate change.

In a fall 2009 referendum, 81 per cent of responding Queen’s students agreed that we should “take immediate action to reduce our global impact on climate change.” Former Queen’s professor and renewable energy expert Joshua Pearce recommended Queen’s carbon-emission reduction targets should be 25 per cent by 2015, 65 per cent by 2020 and 85 per cent by 2030. According to Pierce, we must be carbon neutral by 2050.

It may seem like an ambitious goal, but with good planning, the appropriate resources and collaboration of the Queen’s community, it’s a feasible plan. The University of British Columbia and the University of Syracuse have already set targets to become carbon neutral by 2050 or earlier.

In society today, with our great wealth of knowledge, resources, technology and manpower, people choose to turn a blind eye towards climate change.

There are multiple causes for it. For one, it’s easier to shrug, walk away and continue living an unsustainable lifestyle. Even if one isn’t convinced that the ways of the 21st century are contributing to changes in our climate, it’s irrefutable that resources will become scarcer and more expensive in the future.

We must consider the economic benefits of adopting more sustainable lifestyles, which would result in significant GHG emission reductions. Technology on the market is a start, but so much more can be done. Many new and innovative ideas still need to be explored.

We all know things will have to change in the future, but we shouldn’t wait for scientists to come up with the answers.

Two years ago, Queen’s responded to our responsibility as global citizens and signed this agreement. But missing the CAP deadline is a step backwards.

As students of this University, we cannot let this happen in the future. All of us have a responsibility to contribute and we are equipped with enough knowledge and wit to make reasonable and ambitious goals for our CAP.

Regardless if we’re one of the four students on the advisory committee or not, we can still attend town hall meetings and web interfaces to ensure that the best possible targets are set and the best ideas are put forth for the CAP.

Let’s continue with the same vivacity and wit demonstrated by the student body two years ago here at Queen’s and make our University one of the leading institutions for carbon neutrality in the country.

The CAP has to be a priority, and will bring us to a more sustainable future.

Eszter Gereb is a member of Queen’s Backing Action on Climate Change.

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