Board of Governors to vote on ambitious Climate Action Plan 2030 on Tuesday

UBC is signalling a target of becoming net-zero by 2035.

On December 7, the Board of Governors will vote on whether to endorse the Climate Action Plan (CAP) 2030, a document that outlines UBC’s plan to move toward decarbonizing its campus. CAP 2030 builds off of the Climate Action Plan 2020, which was implemented in 2010 and updated in 2016.

The newest plan aims for an 85 per cent reduction in operational greenhouse gas emissions at UBC Vancouver by 2030 compared to 2007 levels. Operational emissions include emissions produced from burning fossil fuels to heat buildings and hot water systems, as well as powering UBC’s vehicle fleet.

The plan also aims for a 100 per cent "Low-Carbon" District Energy System (DES) by 2030. The DES’s fossil gas use currently makes up over half of UBC’s operational emissions. Emissions data from UBC’s energy system and other operations will be trackable on UBC Sustainability’s new data dashboard.

For the first time, UBC also looks to address the carbon emissions beyond its own operations. CAP 2030 sets a 45 per cent emissions reduction target for “Scope 3” extended emissions, which include emissions from staff, faculty and student commutes, food waste and travel.

The plan hints at initiatives like a Sustainable Transportation Program and a Climate-Friendly Food Program. Details are expected to be released later this month.

From a financial perspective, CAP 2030 introduces an internal carbon price. If this plan is passed, UBC’s financial teams would be asked to consider the costs of fossil fuel use when making decisions around equipment replacement and building retrofits. Emissions would be priced at $250/tonne in 2022, with increases possible in later years to stay ahead of potential federal and provincial policy changes.

Campus and Community Planning said this measure will help justify shifting buildings, which make up 97 per cent of UBC’s operational emissions, off fossil fuels.

['auto'] Screenshot from Climate Action Plan 2030 – November 5, 2021 Draft.

Bridging the gap from plan to action

Multiple governors praised the plan, but said they’re looking forward to seeing project feasibility studies and budget items down the road.

UBC has reduced its green house gas emissions by 29 per cent since 2007, far from the 67 per cent goal it set in the Climate Action Plan 2020. Campus and Community Planning said the completion of the expanded Bioenergy Research Demonstration Facility is slated to bring UBC to a 60 per cent reduction by 2022.

Board Chair Nancy McKenzie declined to comment on the plan ahead of the vote.

Max Holmes, a student member of the Board, noted how the engagement process fielded less than 200 students and the plan’s connection to climate justice principles and other goals listed in the Climate Emergency Task Force Report was unclear.

Campus and Community Planning could not be reached for comment prior to publication.

Linda Nowlan, director of the University Sustainability Initiative, told Board members in the November 22 Sustainability and Climate Action Committee meeting that CAP 2030 is just one plan “nested” under the Climate Emergency Task Force, with its main focus on reducing carbon emissions.

“We know it can be confusing to have a CAP plan focusing on reducing emissions and a CETF plan that talks about climate justice and broader issues, so we will work to make reporting as efficient as possible,” Nowlan said at the meeting.

In terms of future sustainability funding, plans are still in the works.

UBC said it’s invested an “extra” $1.3 million toward climate action projects in the 2021/22 school year, but budgets don’t specify where the money went. UBC Sustainability currently lists funding data for sustainable curriculum development, and students successfully lobbied for a one-time $1.5 million fund for student-led climate initiatives last fall.

Student representatives said they want to see budgeting transparency and permanent funding for sustainability projects going forward.

“Institutions generally have a track record of releasing these awesome, progressive, really ambitious reports, and then it kind of just floats out there without any commitment as to ‘how would we implement these recommendations?’” said Georgia Yee, a student member of the Board.

“Students are concerned about how [climate change] affects them ... how are we going to advocate for a source of funding [that enables us] to act upon it in a timely manner?”