UBC is committed to pursuing an ambitious climate action agenda

The extreme weather events that British Columbia experienced last year showed, only too clearly, why climate change is the most pressing issue of our day.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) has a role to play in the climate emergency. As a major research university, we have an obligation to use our expertise to find solutions and to train the next generation of climate and environmental scientists and leaders. And as a community of almost 70,000 students and 17,000 faculty and staff, we also have an obligation to reduce our own carbon footprint. That is why, as 2021 drew to a close, UBC unveiled two ambitious climate action plans for its Vancouver and Okanagan campuses.

With the release of these plans, UBC has pledged to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 for both campuses and continue to play a leadership role in addressing the climate emergency.

For Vancouver, that means an 85% reduction in campus operations emissions by 2030 and achieving net zero emissions by 2035. This is 15 years ahead of our original target of net zero by 2050. This includes emissions from buildings, energy and fleet. And a 45% reduction in extended emissions. This addresses emissions that all of us have control over including commuting, waste, food and air travel.

For UBC Okanagan, it will be a 65% reduction in campus operations emissions by 2030 and 45% reduction in extended emissions.

Together, these reductions will help UBC align with the Paris Agreement targets, with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5° C. That’s the threshold many scientists have said is crucial to avoid the most disastrous effects of global warming.

UBC has a unique role to be an agent of change in forging a path for other municipalities across B.C. to accelerate toward net zero emissions.

To meet the targets of our climate actions plans, the university will be doing its part to reduce operations emissions and to support the community in taking urgent action on climate change.

Some highlights of the plan include:

•using low-carbon energy sources to heat campus buildings;

•eliminating fossil fuel systems and equipment in buildings;

•transitioning to zero emission vehicles and equipment;

•implementing sustainable transportation initiatives through the UBC Vancouver and UBC Okanagan Transportation Plans;

•continuing to advocate for a SkyTrain extension to UBC Vancouver;

•expanding climate-friendly food menu offerings; and

•exploring opportunities to reduce air travel emissions between UBC campuses and replacing discretionary business trips with virtual meetings whenever possible.

UBC recognizes that the ability to take part in sustainable actions may be constrained by lack of privilege and inequality. This is why engaging principles of climate justice are particularly relevant when developing climate actions related to food systems, commuting and business air travel.

We must identify and remove barriers to choosing alternatives to ensure equity across our campus community.

As a community of learners, researchers and change makers, we have the opportunity and a responsibility to take action and demonstrate leadership to address one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Achieving the ambition of UBC’s CAP 2030 will require systemic change that will reach every corner of the institution, and will require the entire UBC community to be engaged and to participate.

We have enormous intellectual and institutional capacities to advance change for the positive future – that is why we have embedded the term “net positive” into our strategic and sustainability plans.

Through our network of community and global partnerships, including the University Climate Change Coalition, the International Sustainable Campus Network, the University Alliance on Sustainability and U7+, we are helping to support knowledge exchange where research informs policy and where policy catalyzes action.

These partnerships enable UBC’s climate action to inform change across the campus, community and global scales.

I’m grateful to the UBC community, especially its students, for mobilizing to increase awareness and to advocate for action with the creation of the student-led Climate Hub and the many student-led sustainability initiatives on both campuses. We believe this commitment and participation is critical to helping advance our bold vision and ambitious goals.

The climate crisis is one of the most pressing issues of our time, and UBC will directly face its challenges. At this pivotal moment, the decisions and actions we take today will reverberate beyond our borders and lifetimes. •

Santa Ono is the president and vice-chancellor of the University of British Columbia.