This op-ed article by UBC President and Vice-Chancellor Santa J. Ono and originally appeared in the Georgia Straight on Jan 12, 2022.

Our province is still reeling from an unprecedented and deadly heat wave fuelled by climate change. Tragically, hundreds of people died from heat-related illnesses across the province, and the town of Lytton burned to the ground. But this extreme weather also serves as an urgent wake-up call for all of us—we need to do more to combat the climate crisis.

At the University of British Columbia, we are committed to doing our part to address the climate crisis. We have pledged to achieve net-zero operational emissions by 2035—15 years ahead of the previous target date—and to reduce our emissions by at least 85 percent below 2007 levels.

UBC’s Climate Action Plan 2030 (CAP 2030), builds on two previous climate action plans at the university and significant progress we’ve achieved so far in reducing emissions.

Since 2007, UBC has reduced our GHG emissions by approximately 30 percent, with the help of key decarbonization projects, including the Bio-energy Research and Demonstration Facility (BRDF), which provides low-carbon district heat to buildings on the Vancouver campus.

The BRDF processes clean wood waste daily, consisting of sawmill residuals, municipal trimmings, and land clearing operations, and turns them into energy to heat buildings across campus. An expansion of this facility, expected to be completed later this year, will mean a further reduction of campus operational emissions of approximately 60 percent compared to the 2007 level.

By 2030, 100 percent of the district energy used to heat buildings will come from low-carbon sources. It’s part of our “Campus as a Living Lab” platform, and I’m confident the lessons learned on campus will help our province reach a more sustainable future.

The declaration also commits the university to develop a collective response to climate change that embeds climate justice—the idea that the adverse impacts of a warming climate are not felt equitably among people—throughout its activities and priorities.

UBC has built a strong global reputation on climate action leadership, sustainability, and social justice. In 2019 and 2020, Times Higher Education ranked UBC as the top university globally in addressing the climate crisis.

CAP2030 will also help to reduce UBC’s long-term carbon liability (money paid for carbon emissions and offsetting) as well as help future-proof buildings and support campus infrastructure against the impacts of climate change. The university currently pays overall carbon pricing costs of approximately $3 million annually, which is expected to increase as governments escalate carbon pricing to combat climate change. Without further action, UBC’s carbon pricing liability is expected to accumulate to $100 million over the next 25 years.

UBC will do its part to combat the climate crisis from multiple fronts, including the following initiatives: 

  • We will mandate that all new buildings across campus will be constructed to zero-emissions standards, and key existing buildings will be identified to be retrofitted with low-carbon energy systems. We will also eliminate the use of fossil-fuel equipment.
  • UBC will commit to only purchasing new vehicles that are zero emissions where feasible, and we will continue to reduce fleet greenhouse-gas emissions through the use of electric vehicles and vehicle sharing between departments.
  • We will continue to strongly advocate and plan for a rapid transit link from Arbutus to UBC, and also work with the City of Vancouver to improve the cycling experience to campus.
  • UBC will discourage single-occupancy car trips by limiting parking supply and calibrating parking permit packages to incentivize commuters to use sustainable modes of transportation. These actions will help us reduce emissions generated through commuting to campus.
  • In the skies, we commit to reducing business air travel emissions by 50 percent by 2030 by generating awareness and leveraging virtual solutions, technology we’ve all become accustomed to during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • We will also consider an Internal Carbon Price to encourage investment in climate-friendly systems that reduce emissions and operational carbon liabilities, and we will amend UBC Supplier Code of Conduct to reflect the university’s climate commitments.

The UBC community strongly supports these actions. An engagement process earlier this year saw strong support for a hybrid working environment, sustainable divestment, Indigenous partnerships, and a recognition that both individual change and systematic change at the university level is needed.

Our collective actions will ensure we do our part to combat the global climate emergency and develop innovative solutions that can serve as a model for other universities, governments, and municipalities.