Students deliver open letter to President Ono urging UBC to declare a climate emergency

On October 4, UBCC350 and the UBC Social Justice Centre delivered their Climate Strike open letter to President Santa Ono’s office. The letter urges UBC to declare a climate emergency and hold a commitment to climate leadership.

On Friday, September 27 approximately UBC 5,000 students, faculty and staff members gathered in front of the Alumni Centre to demand more drastic climate action as part of the Global Climate Strike.

The strike took place from September 20 to 27 across 4,500 locations and 150 countries. Approximately 7.6 million people worldwide walked out of classrooms and workplaces to voice their concerns over the ongoing climate crisis.

“The Global Climate Strike that was kicked off by Greta Thunberg and the school strike movement is really about recognizing the climate crisis as the emergency that it is and treating it as the emergency that it is,” said Michelle Marcus, a member of the UBCC350.

According to Marcus, the open letter asks UBC to declare a climate emergency in order to encourage the university to scale up its climate efforts to a level that matches the crisis's severity.

“We need to drastically scale up efforts that are being taken. What UBC is doing right now is not enough, and we know that much more can be done. The university has an enormous potential and influence as a renowned institution,” she said.

The letter

Over 1,500 students, staff, faculty and campus organizations signed the open letter calling for UBC to declare a climate emergency. This letter re-evaluates fossil fuel divestment, accounts for scope three emissions on campus and aims to expand the support for climate change research and education.

A major part of the letter includes urging UBC divest from using fossil fuels, which is a campaign that has been going on for the past few years.

“Although UBC calls itself a climate leader, it’s clearly not and it’s actually a very hypocritical thing to do because UBC actually invests in fossil fuels and that’s why we want them to divest,” said Mukta Chachra, a UBCC350 member in an interview with The Ubyssey.

Marcus said the letter was addressed to President Ono, the UBC administration, the Board of Governors and the UBC Vancouver Senate. The letter calls for an extensive acceleration of the university’s climate efforts. Therefore, it would need to go through the Board of Governors and UBC Vancouver Senate in order to initiate the changes they’re asking for.

“We’re asking Santa Ono to take all the efforts that he can as chair of the Senate, member of the Board [of Governors] and influential leader on this campus to bring this declaration forward,” Marcus said.

‘Everyone’s responsibility’

According to Marcus, while younger generations will be affected the most by the climate crisis, everyone can play a role in raising awareness and demanding action.

“Our generation and future generations are going to be affected the most. Obviously, people who are affected the most are the ones who are waking up to it and taking action, but it’s really everyone’s responsibility,” said Marcus.

“As young people, we need to share stories of how we’re being affected by climate change and how it affects our futures and communities to older generations.”

Marcus also expressed that those in communities in the global south, communities of colour and Indigenous people are bearing many of the consequences.

“I think it’s very unfair that our generation has this burden, but everyone should do what they can in their own capacity. We need collective action right now,” said Chachra. “There’s a lot of different ways for our generation to keep the pressure up on people in power.”

Just the beginning

Groups organized their communities in ways UBCC350 said they had not seen before. Whether this was other groups promoting the strike on their events, residence advisors organizing information sessions, departments making statements or having performances all to endorse the strike.

“I think it’s really just the beginning. I’m in my fifth year at UBC and I’ve been organizing climate awareness events ever since my first year and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Marcus.

“The strike just showed how much energy there is and how deeply people care about climate action, people have an urge for getting involved and want to see stronger action.”

The letter was delivered on October 4 and the organizers were told that they would receive a response within four days' time.

“People are not going to stop showing up and engaging until we get the action we need and we’re really far from where we need to be in terms of implementing policies to address this crisis,” said Marcus.

“I don’t expect this to stop anytime soon.”