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Primer on climate change
Globally, the climate is changing, with the rate of change twice as fast in Canada as the global average. The recently released Canada’s Changing Climate Report lays out findings that “Canada’s climate has warmed, and will further warm in the future, driven by human influence”. The same is occurring in British Columbia with a 1.4ºC warming of annual average temperature in the Province over 1900-2013, and further projected warming between 1.3ºC and 2.7ºC by 2050. At SFU’s campuses warming is already being felt, and region-specific climate projections for Metro Vancouver project that the lower mainland will experience the following climate changes, regardless of elevation:
- Warmer temperatures
- A decrease in snowpack
- Longer dry spells in summer months
- More precipitation in fall, winter, and spring and,
- More intense extreme events: both heat events and precipitation events.
Climate change adaptation and mitigation
Tackling climate change is typically addressed in two ways, through adaptation and mitigation.
Climate change adaptation is about managing the anticipated risks of a changing climate. In practice climate change adaptation involves identifying and assessing the risks that a changing climate produces and implementing actions that will minimize these anticipated risks.
In British Columbia, the Climate Change Accountability Act (Bill 44) forms a backbone of climate action for the public sector. Public Sector Organizations (PSOs) have been mandated since 2008 to pursue climate change mitigation by taking inventory of scope 1, 2 and some scope 3 operational greenhouse gas emissions, reporting on these emissions, reducing these emissions and paying offsets for operational GHG emissions that cannot be reduced. SFU has been adhering to this legislation, and has been carbon neutral since 2010. In 2018 SFU reduced emissions by 24% from the 2007 baseline, and purchased $366,350 plus GST of offsets.
Climate change mitigation aims to reduce the risk of a changing climate by influencing the magnitude of change(s) we will see in the future. When put into action, climate change mitigation is about reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced in our day-to-day lives: in work, at home, and in leisure.
Climate change science resources
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report “Global Warming of 1.5 ºC [Dense longer read]
- Nasa Global Climate Change Vital Signs of the Planet [Easy to access website with useful educational modules]
- A primer for understanding climate science
- MIT Professor Kerry Emanuel explains the science behind climate change, as well as the associated risks and how to quantify them. [direct link to PDF HERE]
- New York Times “Climate Change Is Complex. We’ve Got Answers to Your Questions.” [Easy read with straightforward easy to understand answers to common questions]
- Globe and Mail Series “Rising seas and climate change: Everything you need to know” [Easy read with local focus on sea level rise]
- The Climate Atlas of Canada [Detailed overview of climate change science and geographical distribution of climate impacts in easy to navigate web tool]
- SFU Climate Action and Resilience:Principles & Actions for a Post COVID-19 Recovery
Declaring a climate emergency
Following the acknowledgement of the global climate emergency in fall 2021, this year the SFU Board of Governors approved a move to change its institutional language and SFU formally declared a global climate emergency.
Governments, jurisdictions and institutions worldwide have also declared a climate emergency, to mobilize an urgent response to the climate crisis. Links to more information can be found below:
- The number of global climate emergency declarations has reached 1,1880 jurisdictions in 23 countries (4th November 2019)
- Metro Vancouver municipalities including, most relevant to SFU, Burnaby, Surrey, and Vancouver have declared climate emergencies and outlined the actions they are taking in response.
- Over 224 higher education institutions, and 54 networks representing ~10,000 institutions worldwide have signed a Global Climate Emergency Letter, with the following commitments:
- Mobilizing more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation;
- Committing to going carbon neutral by 2030 or 2050 at the very latest; and
- Increasing the delivery of environmental and sustainability education across curriculum, campus and community outreach programmes.
- Canadian institutions include 10 Quebec universities, and Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Selkirk College in BC.
Justin Dillon (2019) University declarations of environment and climate change emergencies, Environmental Education Research, 25:5, 613-614, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2019.1646022
- Editorial in academic peer reviewed journal
- Download from SFU Library
- The SFU 2025 Sustainability Plan provides the foundation for SFU's sustainability efforts from 2020 to 2025. Given a global climate crisis, the Plan mobilizes the entire institution to embed climate action throughout its operations, research, academics and community engagement. The plan includes three overarching goals and 16 climate action targets to guide the institution.
- Commitment to the United Nations-backed Race To Zero campaign, the largest global alliance of its kind to date. The initiative is dedicated to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. SFU has set ambitious emission reduction targets for Race To Zero that will see 85 per cent GHG emissions reductions by 2030, net zero reductions of direct emissions by 2035, and net zero of all emissions by 2050.
- Commitment to full divestment from fossil fuels by 2025.
- SFU formally declares a global climate emergency, committing to accelerate sustained and meaningful action to avoid catastrophic climate change and restore a safe climate, while ensuring our communities can adapt to climate impacts, especially the most vulnerable.
- Commitment to 100% of SFU’s energy is being sourced from renewable sources and adoption and advocacy for safe, convenient, affordable, accessible, and low carbon transportation and travel in SFU’s 20-Year Sustainability Vision and Goals.
- Commitment to 100% renewable energy sources in SFU’s University Energy Utilization (GP 43) policy
- Commitment to SFU’s Energy Statement of Action which commits the University to 2% energy reduction a year, and has resulted in a 24% reduction in operational GHG emissions since 2007. Our operational target for GHG emissions is 33% below 2007 levels by 2020. This work is guided by the 5-Year Strategic Energy Management Plan.
- Investment in the Corix Biomass Plant which will reduce the GHG emissions of SFU’s Burnaby Mountain campus by 69%.
- Commitment to measure and reduce of the carbon footprint of the University’s investment portfolio by 40% below the baseline measurement reported as of March 31, 2016, and to achieve this reduction by 2030 to match Canada’s national climate commitment. As of the latest MSCI ESG measurement March 2019 SFU has achieved a slightly greater than 50% reduction of that baseline measurement. In terms of the actual numbers the baseline measurement was 177.8 tCO2e/$million invested and our latest measurement is 84.6 tCO2e/$million invested.
- SFU’s Strategic Research Plan has set climate change research as a key research priority through its Challenge #1 “Addressing environmental concerns and creating a sustainable future”.
- The Strategic Reseearch Plan is supported by a number of research clusters and units focused on climate change research.
- For credit and professional program courses such as the Faculty of Environment’s Climate Future Series, Renewable Energy Transition course and Sustainable Energy and Materials Management course.
- The investment in SFU's new School of Sustainable Energy Engineering.
- Commitment to Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), which develops impactful, evidence-based climate change solutions through collaborative partnerships which connect solution seekers with BC’s four leading research-intensive universities. PICS is hosted and led by the University of Victoria in collaboration with SFU, University of British Columbia, and the University of Northern British Columbia.
To learn more about our commitments to climate action, download Climate Action at SFU.
Climate engagement sessions
To date, SFU and student-led non-profit, Embark Sustainability, have hosted three climate engagement sessions to discuss SFU climate action. These include two university-wide sessions convening student, staff, and faculty subject matter experts as well as one session solely focussed on students.
In addition to our institutional commitments, SFU students are also mobilizing to advance climate action at SFU and its surrounding communities. This includes:
Curricular and co-curricular activities
SFU has actively integrated climate action into student course work and co-curricular activities.
The Semester in Dialogue is a one-semester, full-time program designed to inspire students with a sense of civic responsibility and encourage their passion for improving society. Each semester the program offers an original, interdisciplinary experience that bridges the classroom with the community and creates space for students to reflect on what they are doing and why it matters.
SFU Public Square is a signature community engagement initiative that works to support an informed, empowered and engaged public. Each year, it convenes dozens of events that bring together diverse communities to learn from and with each other to address the pressing issues of our times.
SFU Sustainability and Embark Sustainability offer a co-run and co-designed sustainability leadership program for SFU students to support them in acquiring valuable sustainability career skills while also counting towards students' Co-Curricular Record.
 Bush, E. and Lemmen, D.S., editors (2019): Canada’s Changing Climate Report; Government of Canada, Ottawa, ON. 444p
 Impacts of Climate Change. Province of British Columbia. Available here.
 MetroVancouver. Climate Projections for Metro Vancouver. 2016. Available here.
 Auditor General of British Columbia, February 2018, Managing Climate Change Risks: An Independent Audit