From the Boardroom: VCH says UBC in good place to respond to new variant, Board endorses plan to reduce 85 per cent of emissions by 2030

At its last meeting of the year, the UBC Board of Governors heard from public health experts on UBC’s COVID-19 safety protocols amid the emerging Omicron variant, and endorsed the university’s Climate Action Plan 2030.

Here is what you might have missed.

‘In as good a place as we possibly can be’

Public health experts from Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) and UBC told the Board the university is well-situated to respond to the Omicron variant.

Dr. Penny Ballem, chair of the VCH Board and clinical professor at UBC; Dr. Michael Schwandt, a medical health officer at VCH and professor at UBC; and Dr. Daniel Coombs, the math department head and a member of the BC COVID-19 Modelling Group, all cited UBC’s high vaccination rate as helpful in reducing the risk of Omicron on campus.

“We couldn't be in a better place than having 97 per cent vaccinated … so we are in as good a place as we possibly can be,” said Coombs.

Coombs and Schwandt added that it will be important to monitor information on transmissibility and case severity from around the world and locally to mold UBC’s response.

On concerns around travel over the holidays, Schwandt said UBC’s high vaccination rate should help protect against potential travel-related COVID-19 transmission.

The public health experts also thanked UBC for its response to the pandemic in general, with Ballem calling the return to in-person learning “very, very successful.”

“One thing that I would note is that UBC has always been very quick to implement the public health measures recommended by our Provincial Health Officer and also, in many cases, gone above and beyond,” Schwandt added, despite past criticisms from the AMS and other groups towards the university’s slow implementation of a partial mask and vaccine mandate.

According to VCH, only 219 students and staff in post-secondary institutions have tested positive for COVID-19 across the region as of this morning. This breaks down to 183 students and 36 staff.

Schwandt said VCH hasn’t been able to put symptomatic testing on campus due to resource and staffing issues.

"We have been in conversation with colleagues at UBC who are discussing potential options, noting this issue, both for access to rapid testing for ongoing asymptomatic screening and then also for symptomatic testing,” he said at the meeting.

However, in VCH’s submission to the Board, Schwandt wrote that VCH “would advise UBC leaders that ongoing mandatory rapid tests for unvaccinated personnel, and related employment/academic sanctions, are not required for COVID-19 control in the campus community.” This point was not brought up in the Board’s discussion.

Board endorses CAP 2030

In a unanimous vote, the Board endorsed Climate Action Plan 2030, setting into motion the university’s bold plans to reduce emissions.

The plan aims for an 85 per cent reduction in operational greenhouse gas emissions — such as emissions from burning fossil fuels and UBC’s vehicles — at UBC Vancouver by 2030 compared to 2007 levels. The plan also aims to target scope 3 emissions, which include emissions from commutes, food waste and travel.

One key part of the new plan is a new internal carbon price. When implemented, emissions would be priced at $250/tonne.

Governors asked questions about the resourcing of the plan, and how UBC would continue to engage with the community.

On resources, Ono said the university plans to use its connections with the provincial and federal government to aid with the funding of the plan.

Ono also said the university is advocating to the federal and provincial government through many channels to get more funding for projects like this.

Michael White of Campus and Community Planning called the engagement process “integrated and distributed.” Director of Sustainability and Engineering Dr. John Madden added that UBC is focusing communication efforts on engaging students and faculty in the work.

“I think the other thing to recognize is the students have mobilized incredibly. They’re articulate, they’re compassionate and they’re very dedicated … we work very closely to empower [those clubs] … to help give them the tools and information needs that make them more impactful in their day-to-day initiatives,” Madden said.