UPDATED: How universities can confront climate change: new Canadian guide, and a new North American network

confronting climate_changeConfronting Climate Change on Campus  is a newly-released guide by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT/ACPPU), in response to growing awareness and concern amongst the professors and researchers who are members. It presents a three-step plan of practical action to be followed by academic staff associations and researchers across Canada:  To reduce the carbon footprint of campuses by improving building energy conservation and promoting low-carbon transportation;  to expand course offerings dedicated to climate change, and to encourage climate change research through grants and awards; and to advocate for the creation of association or institutional environment committees, or work with established committees, such as collective bargaining or workplace joint health and safety committees, to push climate change concerns.  The French version of the guide is here .

The University Climate Change Coalition,  to be known also  as UC3, was launched on February 6 at the 2018 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in Arizona. The new, North American-wide network pledges  to leverage their research and to accelerate local and regional climate action. To begin, in 2018 each UC3 institution will organize a climate change forum tailored to local and regional objectives, to bring together community and business leaders, elected officials and advocates. The 13 participating research institutions include University of British Columbia and University of Toronto, whose press release about UC3 also provides an update on U of T sustainability policies and initiatives.   The remaining UC3 institutions are: Arizona State University, California Institute of Technology, Tecnológico de Monterrey, La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ohio State University, State University of New York, University of California, University of Colorado, University of Maryland, University of New Mexico, and University of Washington.

The growing awareness and concern amongst Canadian  academics can be partly credited to the research efforts of the Sustainability and Education Policy Network (SEPN) at the University of Saskatchewan, which CAUT has highlighted, most recently  in  “The Politics of Climate Change” in the CAUT  Bulletin (June 2017).  The article summarizes results of a survey of Canadian colleges and universities by researchers at SEPN, and calls for exactly the kinds of actions addressed in the new CAUT guide.  The scholarly article on which the CAUT Bulletin article is based,”Climate Change and the Canadian Higher Education System: An Institutional Policy Analysis” , appeared in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education in June  2017.  The key findings are: “less than half (44 per cent) have climate change-specific policies in place; those policies focus most often upon the built-campus environment with “underdeveloped secondary responses” to research, curriculum, community outreach and governance policies; and the “overwhelming” response of modifying infrastructure and curbing energy consumption and pollution, while important, risks masking deeper social and cultural dynamics which require addressing.”   A 2-page summary is here ; an infographic is here.

Other relevant SEPN publications include “The State of Fossil Fuel Divestment in Canadian Post-secondary Institutions” (2016) ; “50 Shades of Green: An Examination of Sustainability Policy on Canadian Campuses” (2015) , and the related Research Brief Greenwashing in Education: How Neoliberalism and Policy Mobility May Undermine Environmental Sustainability  (2014),  and “Greening the Ivory Tower: A Review of Educational Research on Sustainability in Post-secondary Education” , which appeared in the journal  Sustainability in 2013.

And elsewhere in the world:  According to The Guardian, on February 5, the University of Edinburgh , which divested from coal and tar sands investments in 2015, announced that it will sell its final £6.3m of fossil fuel holdings.  Edinburgh has a  £1bn endowment fund,  (exceeded in the U.K. only by Cambridge and Oxford). Signalling the change to a more climate-friendly investment strategy, Edinburgh has invested £150m in low carbon technology, climate-related research,  and businesses that directly benefit the environment.

Carbon Neutral Government Operations pay off in Jobs in B.C.

Since 2010, public service organizations in British Columbia (hospitals, schools, universities) have been required to achieve carbon neutral operations, documented each year in annual Carbon Neutral Action Reports , which provide statistics, case studies of initiatives, and details of their purchases of carbon offsets. A new report, Leading by Example: The First Five Years of Carbon Neutral Government in British Columbia cumulates and analyses five years’ experience; one highlight is that 77% of public sector carbon emissions are facility- related, suggesting great potential for reduction through retrofitting and energy technologies.  A companion report, The Economic Analysis of British Columbia’s Carbon Offset Projects analyses the capital and operating expenditures of the 23 emission offset projects purchased by the public sector in 2013 and 2014.  It estimates that the $24 million expenditure in offsets contributed $28.9 million to provincial GDP, and created 221 jobs in 2013 and 2014. The report also builds on the findings of a Price Waterhouse Coopers analysis done in 2012, and concludes that carbon offset capital expenditures have resulted in 2,903 jobs, and operating expenditures resulted in an additional 1,535 jobs for the period 2008 to the end of 2014.

Tools to Improve Sustainability at Universities

A Green Guide for Universities published by Sustainia of Sweden in December, provides suggestions, tools, and best practices for university building maintenance, purchasing, transportation, and student and employee engagement. The main focus of Chapter 8, Employee and Student Engagement, is to urge the establishment of a sustainability office in each university. Case studies are presented from Yale, Cambridge, Peking, and Copenhagen University. Many Canadian universities have well-established Sustainability offices, including: Queen’s; University of Toronto; University of British Columbia; Universite Laval. The 2014 Annual STARS Review by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education also presents case studies of sustainability at universities. The 2014 report features 105 higher education institutions, mainly from the United States, several from Canada, and some pilot international participants. The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) rates institutions on a host of practices, including Human Resources practices such as the presence of sustainability information in professional development courses and new employee orientation, commuting and telecommuting policies, etc.