Students call for funding commitments on climate action at Climate Emergency Week webinar

Students pushed UBC leaders to provide funding for climate action at a webinar on Wednesday.

As part of UBC Climate Emergency Week, the AMS, the Sustainability Hub and the Climate Hub hosted a webinar titled “Committing to Change: Dialogue with UBC Leadership" on Wednesday, February 16. The event brought together student and administrative leaders from UBC’s two campuses to speak about their work addressing the climate crisis.

Held one year after the UBC Board of Governors endorsed the UBC Climate Emergency Task Force report and recommendations, panellists spoke of the initiatives and strategies being undertaken to address the climate crisis at UBC.

The conversation was not without criticism — Em Mittertreiner, a student director of the Climate Hub called attention to UBC’s lack of concrete funding for the task force’s recommendations. Climate Justice UBC recently released an open letter on the topic.

“Just over a year ago the UBC Board and Senate endorsed 28 Climate Emergency Task Force Recommendations, but we have yet to see them allocate permanent funding to implement these recommendations," they said.

AMS VP Academic and University Affairs Eshana Bhangu also called for proper funding. “We have the priorities right before us, it's essential that we are resourcing them properly.”

No administration in attendance responded directly to the comments on funding, but when The Ubyssey asked if UBC could be more ambitious in addressing the crisis, Michael White, vice-president of UBC campus and community planning, said UBC should be as “aggressive” as possible while still supporting the academic mission.

“We are a university and we also have to push hard but not so hard that we actually break the ability to make change,” White said.

When asked if UBC is close to this breaking point, Dr. Lesley Cormack, principal of the UBC Okanagan campus, said the cost of decarbonisation on both campuses is “many, many millions of dollars.”

“It really does need to be well thought through…. it’s budget season at UBC and so we're very aware of what's available and what's not available… we just need to make sure that it's all done in a timely and careful fashion, but we're not broken. We're actually, I think, doing extremely well.”

Speaking on infrastructure and operations, White outlined the Climate Action Plan 2030, which states targets of 80 percent reduction of operational GHG emissions by 2030, increasing to 100 percent by 2035.

Tashia Kootenayoo, president of UBC Okanagan’s student union, spoke on the importance of intentional dialogue to community building and concrete action in the face of the climate crisis.

“We need to take the time to be intentional. So, this is an emergency and our response does need to be timely, but it's going through the right procedures to ensure that the outcome is reflective of the change we want to see.”

Bhangu called for more leadership.

“What students need is to see some more institutional leadership — and that isn't to say that there isn't institutional leadership. I have great respect for the work that's being done. But I think while there is a partnership and collaboration of pushing each other, it is important that the burden doesn't fall on students and the student organizers all the time.”

UBC’s Climate Emergency Week is slated to run from February 14–18, with the climate emergency predicted to last significantly longer.