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earth, seen from space

NASA image acquired July 10, 2005.

President’s message on Earth Day

April 21, 2021 — 

This Earth Day, we are confronted with a public health crisis and the enduring climate crisis. Both demand that we recognize the impact of our choices, and require us to work together for the common good.

To address the growing climate challenge, UM has made significant changes to become leaders of sustainability research and practices, from building the highest standard of environmentally-sound buildings, to altering our purchasing policies to account for environmental impacts—all things you can learn more about in our Sustainability Strategy 2019-2023. Our efforts to date have earned us gold in the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, and we are now aiming to earn a platinum award.

We have also recently focused on our financials. Last year, UM, alongside 14 of Canada’s other leading universities, signed a pledge to follow environmentally responsible investment practices. This pact also holds signatories to cut their institution’s emissions in half by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. UM’s Climate Action Plan, which will outline how we will meet these goals, is expected to be complete and available to the public this fall.

These are ambitious goals, and I look forward to the continued progress we need to make to reach them. We have a lot of work ahead of us, because we know we need to do things differently, as an institution and as individuals.

This year—this long pandemic year— forced us all to make behavioural changes that lessened our impact on the natural world. Indeed, ecologist Nicola Koper, from UM’s Natural Resources Institute, quickly realized that lockdowns offered an incredible opportunity to see how wildlife behaved when humans quieted their behaviour. She and her colleagues did research on 82 bird species, and almost all of them changed their habitat use during the lockdown, often increasing their use of human-altered landscapes. (UM even recently posted a cautionary notice of coyotes roaming the Fort Garry campus.)

I don’t suggest we live in lockdown, but we do need to make long-term changes to our behaviour, and the pandemic has shown us that drastic change is possible. Now we must do our part and seize this opportunity.

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