UBC Graduate Research

Carbon neutrality should not be the ultimate goal : finding a 1.5°C aligned target for UBC’s fair share Mao, Siyu


Strong and urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is needed to avoid the detrimental effects of climate change. To curb climate change and limit global warming to 1.5oC, IPCC (2018) requires an emissions reduction of 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 in global net anthropogenic GHG emissions. The federal government of Canada, the province of British Columbia, the City of Vancouver, and the University of British Columbia (UBC) have set a number of GHG emissions reduction targets. However, since Canada is both historically and currently a high GHG emitter, a 45% reduction may not be considered appropriate when factoring in climate justice and common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) frameworks. Within Canada, UBC plays an important role in researching and developing climate initiatives due to its commitment to aligning with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C and its global leadership in sustainability. Moreover, with the ability to better leverage bold climate policies quickly, UBC have a climate emergency responsibility to help compensate for Canadian jurisdictions that struggle to reduce emissions. Hence, it is important for UBC to call for a justice-based emissions reduction target that is far more ambitious than both IPCC’s 45% global average emissions reduction target and Canadian national targets. After reviewing literature on CBDR and subnational actions, and acknowledging UBC’s commitments to climate justice, I recommend UBC’s GHG emissions reduction target to be in the range of 80-100% by 2025, and in excess of 100% by 2030 below 2007 levels, as UBC not only has a relatively high financial and technical capacity but also plays an important role as subnational actor, property owner, employer, education and research hub, as well as the leader of societal transformation. Moreover, it is the best platform to research and promote ambitious and innovative climate actions, as well as to affect broader scale policy decisions in the future if successful. Furthermore, since the purpose of UBC - an academic institution - is not to maximize profits, it can take time and risks to research and implement an aggressive emissions reduction target to build environmental awareness and assess a variety of climate change risks on campus. Apart from that, pressures from other stakeholders and peer universities may also require UBC to implement an aggressive emissions reduction target timely to address the impacts of climate change and stay on track with the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5oC. After all, select an emissions reduction target that exceeds the IPCC’s global average targets would not only demonstrate UBC’s global leadership in climate awareness and sustainability but also address climate-related risks and opportunities that would help to make campus-wide cohesive financial and operational decisions. This project underscores why Canada, and therefore UBC, need to set more aggressive emissions reduction targets that exceed the IPCC’s global-average targets due to their relatively high financial and technological capacities. In addition, this project seeks to identify deontology, solidarity, and consequentialism in CBDR and climate justice as principles that could serve as a basis for the argument and rationale to test if Canada and UBC’s commitments align with the international agreement, and to provide a clear vision and direction for UBC to move on the future climate action pathway. Synthesized results of legal frameworks (CBDR and climate justice) and numerical assessment (emissions data and carbon price) from other literature will be discussed to further give specific recommendations at the university level. This project also acknowledges that internal carbon pricing provides a unique opportunity for UBC to demonstrate climate leadership and drive energy innovations. While implementing and selecting a carbon price can be complicated and time-consuming, it is important for UBC to seriously address and respond to the challenge of climate change and engage all members of the university in these issues. Moving forward, in order to achieve the target of CAP2030 and contribute to limit global warming to 1.5oC, UBC needs to adopt tools that account for the full scope of direct and indirect emissions, select and implement the a right carbon price on campus that exceeds the most recent federal carbon tax of $170/ tCO2e by 2030, and take more efforts to get students and the university staff to be environmentally conscious and shift towards more sustainable behaviours. Moving forward, it is critical for UBC’s future climate actions to include effective campus planning and integrated university policies that direct regulations and investment to enable innovations for deep decarbonization or even net-negative emissions pathways. Furthermore, future UBC’s projects will require more ambitious policies targeting the decarbonization of both supply and demand side of energy-economy systems to switch energy use and improve energy efficiency, as well as recognize the significant role CO2 removal played in reaching the net negative emissions in the next half-century. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International