Climate Justice UBC, UBC Climate Hub call for permanent funding to address climate crisis

Campus climate groups have released an open letter calling for UBC to allocate permanent funding to address the climate emergency.

The letter was drafted by Climate Justice UBC and signed by members of the UBC Climate Hub, Climate Emergency Task Force and Centre for Climate Justice. It was released to coincide with the consultation period for UBC’s 2022/23 budget and a UBC Board of Governors finance committee meeting on February 17. The letter is not currently on the Board’s agenda for tomorrow’s meeting.

The Climate Emergency Task Force (CETF) report was endorsed by the Board in February 2021. It encourages the university to pursue a range of efforts to address the climate emergency, from curriculum and research development to climate justice and community initiatives.

“We believe that since student organizers were able to push for divestment, we have significant social capital to really push for budgetary actions, to pressure UBC again to fund and implement the [CETF] recommendations,” said Madalen Sides, a lobbying co-lead with Climate Justice UBC.

While research initiatives are being pursued across multiple disciplines and departments, extracurricular student-led climate projects largely draw upon outside grants and the Climate Emergency Fund, a one-time, $1.5 million pool of revenue from last year’s tuition fee increases. The fund is set to run out in March 2023.

“Students should not have to bear the responsibility of assembling funds to pay for UBC’s climate emergency response, nor should this funding be dependent on tuition increases,” the letter reads.

Advocates say that increased and permanent funding could help enable climate justice efforts, such as sustained engagement with IBPOC communities and community reinvestment.

“Having that funding enables more interaction and consultation [by] being able to provide [fair and adequate compensation] for their time,” said Yeslie Lizarraga, another lobbying co-lead with Climate Justice UBC.

The letter also calls for UBC to be more transparent in how climate emergency spending is being allocated.

Representatives from UBC Media Relations told The Ubyssey in fall 2020 that UBC invests “tens of millions of dollars into climate operations and research,” but did not provide further details. The Ubyssey reached out to the President’s Office last November asking about UBC’s process for funding climate projects, but received no response.

UBC’s latest budget says the university has invested an “extra” $1.3 million toward climate action projects in the 2021/22 school year, but did not specify where the money went. The university-backed Sustainability Hub noted that some projects have funding amounts listed in its Annual Sustainability Report, but could not provide further information.

Campus climate advocates added that while the university has made progress in promoting sustainable campus operations, it should provide more support for faculties looking to hire climate-oriented staff and integrate CETF recommendations.

The letter calls for permanent positions to replace the two temporary positions at the Sustainability Hub currently tasked with implementing and coordinating the CETF recommendations across UBC’s faculties and administrative organizations.

“When there's an emergency, we see new institutions and new positions put together, working on different jobs and addressing that emergency,” said Esmé Decker, a student coordinator with the UBC Climate Hub. “Two people is not quite enough [given UBC’s size].”

While the Sustainability Hub didn’t sign on to the open letter, senior director Linda Nowlan believes that there’s a tangible benefit to the university dedicating funds to address the climate emergency.

"Taking action on the climate emergency affects [students and faculty members’] decisions about where to enroll and where to teach, so it’s in UBC’s self-interest to make climate action and sustainability top priorities,” said Nowlan. “We're in the middle of a climate crisis and a biodiversity crisis, and as a taxpayer-funded institution, UBC has a duty to use its power and expertise to contribute to solutions."