UC3 conference unites universities to discuss climate advocacy

In a conversation with University of California (UC) President Janet Napolitano, UBC President Santa Ono promoted the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) and called for dialogue on universities’ roles in climate advocacy.

The event on July 22, entitled Agents of Change, concluded the first day of the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) Vancouver Summit. A two-day conference hosted by UBC, the coalition brought together leading North American research universities to discuss their roles in modelling sustainable practices and helping local communities achieve their climate goals.

Both Ono and Napolitano highlighted technological solutions to the climate crisis that began with research at their universities. Ono revealed UBC’s upcoming green-energy projects, including a solar-panelled parkade and net-zero housing, while Napolitano praised the use of the Renewable Energy Anaerobic Digester (READ) at UC Davis, a system designed to transform campus food waste into renewable energy.

Both speakers also stressed the need for cooperation between universities.

“[We need] fellow research universities to unite, share their best practices [and] insist that public policy is evidence-based and data-driven, not driven by ideologies,” said Napolitano.

Forming coalitions

Founded in February 2018, the UC3 unites 20 North American institutions to leverage their status as influential actors in the transition to a low-carbon future. UBC was the first university outside of the United States to join and UC is a founding member.

Campus and Community Planning Director of Sustainability & Engineering John Madden described the UC3’s primary effort as not only educating the public, but also informing and influencing governmental policy.

“That’s really the objective of the UC3, to use their collective research assets and strengths to really embolden action within their surrounding communities to drive on addressing climate action,” said Madden. “Not research that goes solely in peer-reviewed journal articles but [research that] really helps to influence and inform policy initiatives at a subnational level; from local government to regional government to provincial government.”

Ono also mentioned his involvement as a founding member of the U7+ Alliance, an international alliance of university presidents committed to addressing global issues from a multilateral perspective. Consisting of over 45 international universities, the alliance held its inaugural meeting in Paris, France under the patronage of French President Emmanuel Macron in early July.

Audience response

An audience question and answer period followed the discussion, at which time student protesters from the political climate action club UBCC350 rose to demand divestment.

When asked how her influence over policy change as Governor of Arizona and US Secretary of Homeland Security compares to that of university leaders, Napolitano once again emphasized collaboration across university networks.

“If we speak with a unified voice … we could have an impact on policy makers,” responded Napolitano. “In the end, policy makers are elected and one of the things that UC3 possibly could put on its agenda is a unified political advocacy approach.”

Ono answered similarly, noting that UBC proudly visits Ottawa and Victoria to share the university’s scholarly findings with federal and provincial representatives.

But the crowd’s support for the divestment demonstration showed how many are wondering if UBC can do more.

“These are small steps and they’re wonderful small steps, but right now we need to be leaping forward,” said Kate Hodgson, a member of UBCC350.

To conclude the event, Ono presented the UBC President’s Medal of Excellence to Napolitano for her leadership and advocacy for climate crisis awareness.

“I’m going to accept this medal on behalf of all of the people at the University of California, particularly the office of the president, who have worked so tirelessly advocating and supporting this important issue involving the university's role in climate change,” said Napolitano.