Climate emergency: evolving teaching and research to advance climate action at UBC

This month, we’re looking at Sustainability and Climate Action at UBC through a teaching and learning lens. We welcome guest editors Dr. Tara Ivanochko, Academic Director, Sustainability Hub and faculty member in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences; and Oliver Lane, Manager Teaching and Learning, Sustainability Hub.

UBC declared a climate emergency in 2019. The declaration, and the resulting Climate Emergency Task Force Report (PDF) — developed in consultation with over 3,900 UBC community members — recognize that UBC has a mandate to effect change beyond our institutional boundaries and has a fundamental responsibility to foster a culture of engagement and advocacy on climate action. The declaration came with a big commitment to action. At the Sustainability Hub, a unit dedicated to supporting faculty, staff and students to advance sustainability goals across the university, it signified a huge opportunity to leverage resources to accelerate change in the university’s operations on campus as well as in its teaching and research work. It is imperative that we involve students, faculty and staff in action.

Then COVID-19 hit and the teaching and learning experiences for students and faculty changed nearly overnight. Saying it has been a struggle for the community is an understatement. But what is not an understatement is that the UBC community developed extraordinary resiliency, and that in our response to the pandemic we have started to connect the dots between human wellbeing, health, reconciliation, justice, climate action and sustainability. We have seen faculty from across disciplines explore climate and sustainability connections within their subject areas, both in their teaching and in their research. The connections are becoming more obvious and are creating opportunities for reflection and action.

Highlighting the importance of making these connections, UBC’s Climate Emergency Task Force Recommendations (PDF) emphasize the connection between climate change and climate justice. To support that connection, the report identifies a number of priority areas including:

  • supporting climate leadership and initiatives led by Indigenous, Black and People of Colour
  • ensuring Indigenous perspectives, communities, and worldviews have a leading role in developing and implementing climate-related initiatives and policies, and
  • supporting community wellbeing in the face of the climate crisis.

Further supporting sustainability (and climate) education, UBC’s 20-Year Sustainability Strategy for UBC Vancouver campus (PDF) from 2014 includes the goal of having “sustainability integrated throughout UBC teaching, learning and research activities” and providing students “with knowledge, skills and experience enabling them to serve as agents of change, community leaders and responsible global citizens”. After all, UBC’s stated institutional purpose is “Pursuing excellence in research, learning and engagement to foster global citizenship and advance a sustainable and just society across British Columbia, Canada and the world”. Climate action and climate education are at the center of this.

In this article, the Sustainability Hub shares some examples and resources to help us think about ways to connect our teaching and research to climate action and climate justice, empowering our students to be agents of change in the world, and re-envisioning a positive relationship between human beings and planet Earth.

We are moving forward, but we need to move faster, and your involvement is key in achieving these shared goals.


The Sustainability Hub supports faculty members taking action on climate change through teaching and research

One of the strategic priorities to address the climate emergency at UBC is to Expand climate education opportunities and resources for the UBC community and broader public. UBC is strengthening efforts to ensure that all undergraduate and graduate students have access to climate education within their discipline, supporting further climate education pedagogy and curriculum development, and expanding climate-related professional development opportunities.

The UBC Sustainability Hub works to inspire people to act upon the planet’s most urgent challenges through UBC’s academic and operational sustainability leadership. Climate change is likely the biggest challenge of all. Below are numerous resources we think you will find helpful as you reflect on ways you can connect the dots between climate change and your teaching and research.


Places to start: bring in new connections to climate change in your teaching and research:

  1. Bring in a Climate Teaching Connector to deliver a presentation to your students. This free program brings a subject matter expert (climate science, climate justice, and other perspectives) to your class for one session. It’s an easy and powerful way to start the conversation with your students.
  2. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a global framework that has multiple connections to climate change and climate justice. There are various resources that can help you incorporate content at a higher level to start the conversation with your students. Check out the existing SDG Academy courses for ideas.
  3. These short videos discuss the climate emergency and its interconnections with land, food, nature, Indigenous rights, refugees, and more.
  4. Other frameworks that could be a good starting point include the Circular Economy, Planetary Boundaries, and Ecological Footprint.
  5. Join conversations on campus: check out Sustainability Hub events or UBC’s Inter-departmental Climate Committee (IDCC) to connect with other units and departments to share best practices, inspire each other, and leverage collective passions and capacities to advance climate action across the university (contact Oliver Lane for more information). Maybe you’ll be inspired to start your own departmental climate action committee!
  6. Also, check out the CTLT’s Winter, Spring and Summer Institutes for related workshops and sessions.
  7. Consider adding an applied project to your class. SEEDS is a program run by Campus and Community Planning with support from the Sustainability Hub that involves applied research and interdisciplinary partnerships between students, faculty, staff and community partners to advance sustainability ideas, policies, and practices and create societal impacts by using the Campus as a Living Laboratory.


Are you ready to explore developing content for your course, or designing a new course or program? Check out these opportunities and resources:

  1. The Sustainability Hub offers Climate Education Grants, which support faculty looking to add climate change-related content to a current course. The upcoming deadline to apply is November 15.
  2. We also offer Sustainability Education Grants for faculty looking to create new courses or programs related to climate change.
  3. The Sustainability Fellows program is a space created for faculty from across disciplines to come together and share their experiences and ideas to advance sustainability teaching on campus.

    Below are several examples of projects developed with support from some of these grants. See the Sustainability Hub website at the above links for more information:

    • Sustainability Education at UBC: What can we learn from participatory, urban and Indigenous planning? – Dr. Maggie Low (Community and Regional Planning) and Dr. Allison Earl (Architecture and Landscape Architecture)
    • Climate Studies and Action Certificate – Dr. Jessica Dempsey (Geography) and Dr. Tara Ivanochko (Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences)
    • Climate Hacks in the Community: A field course on community engagement – Dr. Stephen Sheppard (Forest Resources Management, CALP) and Dr. Rob Kozak (Forestry)
    • Understanding Wildfires: A case study for UBC Nursing: (NURS290) Health Impacts of Climate Change – Raluca Radu & Aubree McAtee (Nursing)
    • Mathematical Models of Climate Change: How do they work?: (MATH 225) Introduction to Differential Equations – Rebecca Tyson (Math)
    • Sustainable Living Through Family Contexts – Dr. Silvia Bartolic (Sociology) and Dr. Kerry Renwick (Curriculum and Pedagogy)
    • Achieving Sustainability in Global Health: Developing an interdisciplinary course on the global health policy and systems – Dr. Veena Sriram (Public Policy and Global Affairs) and Dr. Peter Berman (Population and Public Health)
    • Community Organizing for Climate Justice – Dr. Antoine Coulombe (Social Work)


Other resources that can help along the way:

  1. Climate wellbeing resource kit – supporting students (and yourself) when discussing climate change becomes overwhelming
  2. Climate Justice toolkit: Centering Justice in Climate Emergency Response
  3. To further explore the connections between climate, wellbeing and student health, connect with UBC Wellbeing.
  4. Connect with the Centre for Community Engaged Learning (CCEL) to explore developing partnerships with community groups for your course, providing your students with a deeper on-the-ground experience while supporting community group needs.
  5. The Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology offers multiple resources including the Open Educational Resources portal where you can learn from others exploring the teaching of sustainability at UBC.
  6. AASHE – Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education has a multitude of resources related to teaching and research that could be useful for your journey.
  7. UBC’s Strategic Plan, Climate Emergency Priorities, Climate Action Plan, and Air Travel Emissions Reduction targets, including faculty emissions.

Enjoyed reading about sustainability and climate action? Learn about other topics we covered in the August 2022 edition by reading the complete Edubytes newsletter. To view past issues, visit the Edubytes archive.

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