On the road to creating a more sustainable campus, York has shared its goal of becoming carbon neutral by or before the year 2049. This decision follows along with the set European Union (EU) goal, which is aiming for carbon neutrality come 2050.
Carbon neutrality refers to a removal of carbon emissions, or creating a balance by reducing carbon emissions and offsetting what is left. This goal of carbon neutrality by 2049 is aimed to improve sustainable resources and reduce York’s overall carbon emissions, as detailed in the 2020 report, Advancing York University’s Sustainability Strategy Through Goal PL5: A call for community collaboration in reducing York University’s carbon footprint.
Nicole Arsenault, program director of sustainability at York, contends that universities have a crucial role to play when facing the pressing issue of climate change.
“Climate change will continue to pose daunting challenges and universities have a crucial role to play addressing the crisis and finding solutions. York is a leader in sustainability and is advancing its Sustainability Strategy with a progressive goal of becoming carbon neutral on or before 2049.
“The university will work to embed sustainability in all areas of the institution. To accomplish this, we will be developing more opportunities for engagement, awareness, and goal setting to generate action and get results.”
Nathi Zamisa, co-chair of the Environmental and Urban Change Students’ Association (EUSCA), explains that York’s desired goal to reduce carbon emissions is the first step to fulfilling national and global sustainability promises.
“To be clear, it is a commitment to continue to be a leader in sustainability among public institutions in Canada, and to create a Climate Emergency Action Plan. To fulfill such a promise, York will need to adopt a real sense of haste and/or urgency, which — one year after the onset of the pandemic — seems like a formidable challenge.”
“While Carbon Reduction is and should remain a priority for York in its sustainability strategy,” Zamisa continues, “the premise of carbon neutrality in Canada, particularly in Ontario, is underlined by Federal Carbon Pricing and the provincial cap and trade program. These programs create a twofold system for achieving carbon neutrality, one in which the university can essentially purchase ‘offsets’ or credits to account for shortcomings in their commitment to achieve net-zero emission by 2049.”
In relation to the 2049 carbon neutrality goal, Arsenault assures that York upholds sustainability as a core value for its environmental and societal decisions: “The university has made great strides in supporting sustainable practices, teaching, research, and partnerships. York will continue to do its part to address the growing environmental crisis through collaboration, engagement, leadership, and innovation, so that together we can make things right for our communities, our planet, and our future.”
Arsenault continues on to detail future developments that will be implemented by York in their sustainability action plan, which includes, but is not limited to:
- “Measuring greenhouse gas emissions and the ecological footprint of York and its institutional activities, to measure and manage reductions in those emissions, while being able to report on broader sustainability goals and this is a collaborative effort with the Ecological Footprint Initiative.”
- “An Energy Management Plan to accelerate greenhouse gas emission reductions from the university’s central utilities and deep retrofits to buildings.”
- “A climate awareness campaign that includes community engagement to generate action and research, and to use York’s campuses as ‘living labs’ through experiential education.”
Zamisa illustrates that this desperate need for carbon neutrality — both on and off campus — stems from overconsumption and overproduction as a society and population.
“We have waste and environmental management issues linked to the internationalization of goods and services, environmental policy gaps and shortcomings, and a bias towards investing in extractive and non-renewable resources industries. As a result, policymakers are forced to take reactionary and/or response-based measures to manage climate change. Note the absence of preventative measures,” she says.
“While carbon reduction is absolutely an ecological priority,” explains Zamisa, “EUCSA’s hopes are that York’s Comprehensive Climate Emergency Action Plan also considers taking a more holistic approach — one that investigates the university’s relationship with its local, national and international partners, and that seeks to bridge the gaps between broader ecological issues (i.e. warming global temperatures) and macro/microcosmic social dilemmas (i.e. unemployment) emboldened by the pandemic.”
More can be found on the universities steps towards sustainability and carbon neutrality on the York University Academic Plan (UAP) 2020-2025.