Taking Action: British Columbia's Universities and Colleges Respond to the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act

Near the end of 2007 the BC government enacted the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act which put into law the greenhouse gas reduction commitments made in the province’s Climate Action Plan. Specifically, the province is now legally committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions: 6% below 2007 emission levels by 2012, 18% by 2016, 33% by 2020, and 80% by 2050.

The Act also requires that all of BC’s public sector organizations be carbon neutral by 2010 – this includes school districts, post-secondary institutions, and hospitals. Specifically: by the end of 2010, all public sector organizations must have greenhouse gas auditing systems in place and must purchase carbon offsets for their emissions. In addition, it is expected that public sector organizations will find ways to reduce their total emissions over time.

“I think the offset obligation is definitely something universities have to deal with but it’s not going to be the biggest challenge. I think the biggest challenge is going to be where they try to push their emissions down over time. We are going to want to keep seeing reductions down the road.” – Government respondent

This new policy direction will have profound impacts on how colleges and universities operate.

We undertook this study to find out how post secondary institutions were responding: what actions they have taken and what challenges they are facing.

The primary focus for implementing the Act is on energy management because this represents the largest opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; but we must remember that climate change is not just about more efficient light bulbs and fewer parking lots, it is about breaking down traditional barriers and disciplinary thinking, it is about new ways of relating to the environment and each other and about reassessing what we value. Catalyzing these essential cultural changes is where post secondary can make the largest contribution since it is here that each new generation of leaders are trained. BC’s colleges and universities recognize that they play a critical role in this process and they are all committed to climate action.

Carbon neutrality is not the ultimate goal, but it is a first step which has the capacity to transform higher education in British Columbia which will in turn have profound cultural effects. Ultimately, this is a grand experiment and people are watching. What we do here will have an impact globally.

This is an ongoing project. We invite all post secondary institutions to contact us with feedback on the report, with stories of their journey towards sustainability, and with case studies of greenhouse gas reduction and energy generation projects.

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