What has UBC achieved to date when it comes to its sustainability and climate action initiatives?

As a global leader in sustainability for more than two decades, UBC is deeply committed to working to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change, and UBC urges students, faculty and staff to do their part, too. At any given time, multiple sustainability initiatives, policies, plans and programs are being worked on, through research, teaching and learning, engagement and operations.

In 2018, UBC achieved an overall 37 per cent reduction in absolute carbon emissions from the 2007 baseline, despite a 26 per cent increase in building floor space and a 40 per cent increase in student enrollment. Relative to combined student enrollment, we have reduced greenhouse gas emissions per full-time equivalent student by 55 per cent compared to 2007 levels.

UBC was ranked first in the world among universities for taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, and first in Canada for making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, according to the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings 2019.

Still, we recognize there is a lot more work to be done to accelerate actions within the next decade that will advance UBC towards zero emissions.

Sustainability continues to be a core priority in UBC’s Strategic Plan, which outlines a wide range of sustainability initiatives. A few examples include:

  • UBC established its Climate Action Plan that set some of North America’s most aggressive greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets in 2010. UBC is on track to advancing toward its GHG emissions target of 67 per cent as of 2021, and identifying opportunities to accelerate its GHG reductions over the next 10 years towards achieving net zero emissions. 
  • There are numerous academic actions underway that support the Climate Emergency, including paid student internships, climate related curriculum developments and pilot grants for research and teaching programs. Many individual faculty members focus on climate research and education, and each faculty determines its priorities for hiring, research and teaching. 
  • UBC campuses also serve as living labs for sustainability research and knowledge and equipping learners to become responsible global citizens and agents for change.

    The Campus as a Living Lab (CLL) initiative is a proven and effective mechanism to engage faculty in climate action by combining academic research with campus development and operations to respond to real-world problems. To date, CLL projects have included major capital projects that built cutting-edge facilities on campus and faculty research projects supported through an annual $200K fund managed by Infrastructure Development. 

  • In December 2019, the UBC Board of Governors formally agreed to supporting the divestment of the main endowment pool ($1.7B) from fossil fuels and directed the university to expeditiously conduct analysis necessary to support such action. Legal and financial reviews of the $380-million transfer of endowed university funds from the main endowment pool to the university’s sustainable future pool, a fossil-free and low carbon fund established in 2017 to test, validate and research investment strategies that specifically aim to materially lower carbon emissions and aim to exclude fossil fuels, are expected to be completed and presented to the Board of Governors at the April meeting. To date, the legal analysis points to a path forward, as presented at the February board meeting. In order to successfully take this path, we need to continue the financial analysis in order to justify this path and meet our fiduciary duties. An update on this will be presented at the board in April. 
  • The completion of the $90-million hot water district energy system has been a key achievement leading to water-use reduction (50 per cent since 1999), operational savings, as well as a 30 per cent drop in natural gas consumption for heating in the past five years. The cost of repairing the older system would have been $190-million. 
  • The Bioenergy Research & Demonstration Facility (BRDF) is another example of how UBC is pushing sustainability initiatives forward. The BRDF uses clean wood waste to generate energy for 25 per cent of campus heating and hot water needs (100 per cent in summer) and reduces GHG emissions. The facility has displaced around 8,500 tons of emitted fossil fuel–based carbon dioxide annually since 2012.