Student leaders from around the world are travelling to UBC this month to try to tackle the world’s top energy problems.
Their destination: the International Student Energy Summit (ISES), where 400 students from 35 countries, environmental scientists and energy industry leaders will explore practical solutions for a more sustainable planet.
The three-day event, headlined by Nobel Prize-recipient Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the U.N. International Panel on Climate Change and India’s Tata Energy Research Institute (TERI), will run from June 9-11 on UBC’s Vancouver campus.
“Nearly 85 per cent of the world’s energy supply comes from fossil fuels, which produce pollution and climate change – it’s unsustainable,” says Rosie Pidcock, a graduating Sauder School of Business student who is co-leading a team of 30 student organizers. “ISES will focus on global energy sustainability and how students and society can accelerate the transition to a low-carbon society.”
Pidcock, who has a passion for green business, hopes ISES will shatter expectations of what a student-led environmental conference looks like. For example, the students have assembled an advisory board of major energy leaders, including Randy Gossen of the World Petroleum Council, and attracted more than $300,000 in sponsorships to support housing and travel bursaries for participants in need.
While pairing oil sands executives with environmentalists is arguably akin to throwing cats in a bag, Pidcock says it is essential for real progress. “If we are going to have a meaningful conversation about energy, you need to engage all stakeholders, especially government and energy companies, because they hold the key to progress in many ways,” she says. “Business has real power to create positive change.”
The event, which is sponsored by the UBC Sustainability Initiative, will focus on three areas: technology and innovation, markets and regulation, and global energy dynamics. Shying away from controversy won’t be on the agenda, says Pidcock, noting there will be a debate on Enbridge Corporation’s contentious proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline for B.C. and Alberta.
Enbridge President John Carruthers is among the group of individuals who have been asked to review the case that delegates will debate. The case will provide delegates with a base of knowledge to analyze the environmental, business and technological aspects of the multi-billion dollar project, which seeks to bring Canadian oil to foreign markets, but faces environmental and land claim concerns from local First Nations and other groups, Pidcock says.
Delegates will also design model low-carbon communities and focus their expertise and passion on the world’s 10 most-pressing “unsolvable” energy problems, as voted by delegates using social media, including Twitter and Facebook, in the days leading up to the conference. At the end of the conference, all delegates – from students to CEOs – will pledge to address a specific energy issue in their community.
“We are proud to support student-driven initiatives like ISES that help accelerate the adoption of more sustainable practices both on and off campus,” says Alberto Cayuela, Associate Director, UBC Sustainable Initiative, and ISES advisory board member. “We are deeply impressed by the team’s passion and commitment to create this innovative energy conference that is organized by students, for students.”
Pidcock credits the inaugural ISES conference – which featured former Mexican President Vicente Fox in Calgary in 2009 – for igniting her passion for green business. She returned to UBC and helped to create the Sauder School of Business’ specialization in sustainability for undergraduate students.
“That conference really inspired students, myself included, to take action on sustainability,” says Pidcock, who recently discussed offshore drilling issues with former U.S. president Bill Clinton at an international sustainability conference in San Diego. “We are working hard to ensure this year’s edition has the same effect.”
Pidcock is looking forward to meeting green business innovators from other universities. At the top of her list are Harvard graduates Jessica Matthews and Julia Silverman, the creators of sOccket, a soccer ball that generates clean electricity to power appliances, including LED lamps, water sterilization devices and mini refrigerators.
“People ask me what a student conference can do in just three days,” Pidcock says. “I say we have a Nobel Prize winner, we have students who represent Nobel winners of tomorrow, and we’re going to spend three days trying to tackle pressing global energy problems. And you know what? I like our chances.”