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A summit, a committee, a plan of action: OISE paves path for climate change fight

September 23, 2020

Perry King

OISE’s first Climate Action Summit saw community members contribute 100+ ideas on how to address the climate crisis at OISE.


On a busy, cold January 2020 morning, the OISE community came together for what Hilary Inwood believes was one of the Institute’s ground-breaking days in the fight against climate change.

With over 100 people in attendance, OISE’s first Climate Action Summit saw community members contribute 100+ ideas on how to address the climate crisis at OISE. The Summit, which took place at the OISE Library, brought in a number of speakers – from John Robinson, U of T’s Presidential Advisor on the Environment, Climate Change and Sustainability, to Grade 6 students from the Jackman Lab school.

For Inwood, OISE really showed a strong sense of community at the summit – that they are not afraid to speak up when addressing some of the crises of our time.

“Many of us who work at OISE see OISE as a leader in lots of different contexts. We see its potential to really influence other places,” said Inwood, who teaches in the Master of Teaching program at OISE, and leads its Environmental & Sustainability Education (ESE) Initiative.

Inwood was particularly excited because OISE was the first Canadian faculty of education to host a climate action summit. She says that the community really wanted to drive home the message that we shouldn’t just be saying that our university is doing something, “We wanted to send the message that we each need to be doing something – that we’re all complicit, we’re all responsible for the climate crisis,” she said. “By having a summit at OISE, we can act now.”

As a result of the summit, OISE established a new Climate Action Advisory Committee, and have begun assembling a Climate Action Plan for the Institute. Addressing environmental and sustainable education issues within OISE was an important theme that emerged from its academic plan, says OISE’s Dean, Glen Jones.

He says the committee was a “natural next step” from the productive summit. “With the leadership of our faculty and students, OISE hosted a very productive and engaging Climate Action Summit early in the year, and the notion of developing a strategic climate action plan emerged as a key priority from those conversations,” he says.

“My hope is that the plan will have both short-term and longer-term action items that will guide our community over the coming years, as well as clear goals so that we will be able to monitor our progress.” The Plan, which will be unveiled later this school year, builds on the research and practice already being done at OISE to address the climate crisis – including OISE’s ESE Initiative, the Jackman Institute for Child Study’s Natural Curiosity Project, and the ongoing collaboration with the TDSB Sustainability Office.

Details of OISE's forthcoming Climate Action Plan for addressing environmental and sustainable education issues within the Institute will be revealed in late fall. 


Alysse Kennedy, a doctoral candidate in Environmental and Sustainability Education and a member of the committee, sees this Action Plan as practical and easily implementable.

“Having a plan is one thing, but actually being able to make it accessible and doable is another,” said Kennedy, who is a graduate assistant and research assistant for the ESE and the TDSB's EcoSchools initiative. “I think we have a really good team assembled on this committee – which is spearheaded by Hilary and supported by the Dean. It’s a great mix of different interests, different talents, different strengths. I think it’s going to be really effective.”

David Montemurro, Associate Professor, Teaching Stream in the department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, says the plan will help people think beyond individual goodwill and initiative and focus on a coordinated, systemic approach “where they can lean in, lend their energies and kind of feel like they're contributing in a significant way,” he said.

Details of the plan are to be revealed in late fall, but Inwood says the committee has already undertaken an inventory of OISE’s courses and research related to sustainability. The committee is working with an intern based at the Munk School of Global Affairs to research and review the recommendations from the summit – and more graduate assistants will come into the fold this fall.

Inwood praised the Dean for his support – establishing a committee of this nature and dedicating resources to it, where need be. “It shows a high level of dedication on his part, especially now as he’s in his last year,” says Inwood, of Dean Jones, who steps down in June 2021. “A lot of Deans would step back a bit. I don't think he’s going to do that, especially on this file.”

“He's really dedicated to getting some things in place before he leaves and that's fantastic,” she said.

It is precisely that, Dean Jones’ departure, that encompasses some of the challenges the committee will be working on going forward. The committee wants to implement plans and action that can be embraced and supported by future leadership.

“We have to really make it solid, concrete, actionable, appealing, and doable, and that there's a lot of buy in so that someone [a Dean] coming in is not going to ignore it – because they recognize that, ‘Wow, there's been a lot of work and thought and care put into this,’” he says.

The coronavirus and COVID-19 are another “externality” to consider, says Montemurro. Plans and action will need to be seen “within that COVID lens.” The pandemic has already changed behaviours in the community – a lot less greenhouse emissions, less travel to work by faculty and staff, and energy used in the building itself is down. The challenge will be shaping action but also taking advantage of opportunity.

“Maybe there’s a moment for us to realize, as well, a big contributor to CO2 [carbon dioxide] is faculty travel to conferences,” says Montemurro, for example. “Well, we recognize we don't have to do that anymore because, clearly, we’re not – so how can we use some opportunities that arise from COVID to consider building a better kind of new normal.”

In the meantime, the committee is making great progress, says Dean Jones, even though there’s a lot of work to do this fall.

But, he praises the committee’s leadership – particularly Dr. Inwood’s. “I am extremely pleased that Dr. Inwood has agreed to play a key role in leading us forward,” he says, “and I know that she is benefiting from background work that is being conducted by some wonderful students and support staff.”

Learn more about the committee, ESE and other OISE-based environmental initiatives

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