Collective Wisdom

How to get to net zero

As the world races to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, how do we best get there? Six UBC climate experts, including three delegates to COP26, share their perspective.

Carbon pricing is essential.

Dr. Werner Antweiler
Professor of Economics
Sauder School of Business

The most essential climate policy instrument is putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions — a price that reflects the damage caused by climate change. Current carbon prices in Canada and around the world are still too low to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Meaningful climate action will not hurt the economy, but boost it. Incentivized by carbon prices, new investment will flow into renewable energy, energy efficiency, electrification of mobility, public transit, and climate change adaptation. Carbon pricing also stimulates innovation into cheaper, better, and novel technologies.

There is simply no other policy that is as important as putting a price on carbon emissions.

The ocean provides a wide variety of climate solutions that are currently under-recognized. 

Dr. William W. L. Cheung
Professor and Director of the Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries
Canada Research Chair in Ocean Sustainability and Global Change
Faculty of Science    

Covering 70 per cent of Earth’s surface and absorbing over 90 per cent of heat and 20 to 30 per cent of CO2 emissions, the ocean offers a wide range of solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation.

These solutions include the protection of coastal “blue carbon” such as kelp forests, the transformation to low-carbon food and transportation systems, and ocean-based renewable energy. 

However, the ocean is under-represented in countries’ plans at COP26 for achieving net-zero emissions. Despite Canada’s coastline being the world’s longest, its latest Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement only has one mention of “ocean.”  

Moreover, climate change is impacting marine ecosystems and the people dependent on them. Canada is experiencing such impacts first hand, evidenced by BC’s recent heatwaves and their devastating effects on marine life and fisheries. 

We need to mainstream the ocean in our portfolio of climate solutions, and in developing climate-resilient sustainable development pathways.

There won't be a silver bullet for this. All angles need to be covered.

Dr. Robert Godin
UBC COP26 Delegate
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science 

Negative emission technologies (NET) will be needed to stop the catastrophic course we are currently treading. The current 'business as usual' viewpoint tells us that CO2 capture and storage (CCS) is the only approach that can store the required 120 to 160 gigatons of CO2 by 2050. CCS is inevitable, but it is unclear what form it will take. Geoengineering and storage under the ocean floor as carbonate appear to be the front runners.

A much more exciting prospect is to not only make CO2 'go away,' but to convert it (with light or electricity) into something of value and use, which is called CO2 capture and utilization (CCU). Recent estimates state that CCU could only account for about one per cent of our CO2 mitigation needs, but I believe this severely underestimates transformational ideas. If we can produce common objects like building material or furniture by CCU, it can make a significant dent in our NET needs.

We need international collaboration not only on fossil fuel consumption, but also on production.

Dr. Kathryn Harrison (PhD'93)
UBC COP26 Delegate
Professor of Political Science
Faculty of Arts

Under the Paris Agreement, each country is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions released within its own borders. Because 75 per cent of emissions result from burning fossil fuels, an obvious solution is to adopt policies like carbon taxes and zero-emission vehicle mandates that constrain fossil fuel consumption.

The complication is that countries like Canada that export fossil fuels benefit financially but are not environmentally accountable for combustion emissions in destination countries.

UN Production Gap Reports find that planned fossil fuel production significantly exceeds projected demand based on national climate pledges. Producers may be counting on successful lobbying against policies to reduce demand, or simply competing to get their oil to market while they still can. But in either case, fossil fuel oversupply undermines policies to constrain demand.

We thus need international collaboration on both fossil fuel consumption and production — a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

We can’t overlook the power of engaging ordinary citizens in climate action.

Dr. Stephen Sheppard (MSc'78)
Professor Emeritus in Forest Resources Management
Director of Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning (CALP)
Faculty of Forestry

One important solution missing from government policies is effective engagement of ordinary citizens in climate action. Canadians feel worried and want to know what they can do about the climate emergency. Most communities lack a cohesive social mobilization strategy to foster widespread citizen action needed to meet ambitious targets. 

One solution is the Cool ‘Hood Champs training program, developed by Faculty of Forestry researchers. It aims to empower Vancouver residents to climate-proof their neighbourhoods and halve carbon footprints by 2030. 

This unique program, delivered through multiple community centres with City support, provides free, fun, hands-on workshops and outdoor climate tours, informing residents and youth about local climate impacts and solutions. Using the award-winning ‘Citizens Coolkit,’ Champs develop their own Climate Action Plans to share with friends and neighbours, creating visible positive changes to inspire others. Champs in the 2020 pilot program planted trees, built food/pollinator gardens, and created online climate advocacy platforms. 

Addressing the climate crisis requires that we learn a new currency beyond dollars and cents.

Juvarya Veltkamp (MBA'11)
UBC COP26 Delegate
Director of the Canada Climate Law Initiative (CCLI)
Peter A. Allard School of Law

At the Canada Climate Law Initiative, we educate boards of directors about climate risk, and how to integrate it into their oversight responsibilities. 

Addressing the climate crisis means that we have to think differently about everything — about our economy, our energy system, how we produce food, how we get around. A major priority during COP26 in Glasgow is to ensure that every financial decision takes climate change into account. And this requires that we learn a new currency; dollars and cents have not been enough, and we need to understand measures such as carbon emissions, or climate value at risk.  

At CCLI, our free presentations to directors and trustees are helping achieve this goal, so that boards across Canada can better respond to the climate crisis, and shepherd their organizations towards and through a net-zero transition with the scale and urgency required.