Inside Surrey for Future’s New School District Climate Campaign

The local climate advocacy group says they are planning to advocate for climate action in Surrey schools

(Left to right) Surrey for Future members Sebastian Sajda, Erin Pedersen, and Allison Richardson. (Braden Klassen)

“A society becomes great when people plant the seeds of trees whose shade they will never live to enjoy.”

This proverb was shared at the Jan. 20 meeting of Surrey for Future, a climate advocacy organization based in Surrey which was co-founded by Kwantlen Student Association Sustainability Coordinator Erin Pedersen and KPU Librarian Allison Richardson.

Nineteen people — including a number of members of the KPU community — attended the meeting, which took place in the Surrey Centre Library. The event’s main purpose was to discuss the group’s ongoing campaign to ask the Surrey school district to declare a climate emergency.

Referred to as “SD36,” the campaign follows in the footsteps of two successful past campaigns which led to school districts in Greater Victoria and New Westminster to declare climate emergencies in 2019.

These declarations come with the expectation that school districts will commit to developing strategies and methods for reducing carbon emissions, investing in climate education initiatives, and reaching out to other school districts and government agencies for support.

In New Westminster, the school board unanimously voted to approve the motion to declare a climate emergency on Oct. 29. It also voted to “write a letter to the Minister of Education and the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy advocating for climate literacy in schools, support for school districts to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and prioritizing the funding of greener school facilities.”

Surrey for Future hopes that, by declaring the climate emergency, the Surrey school district will commit to taking actions similar to those of the Greater Victoria and New Westminster school districts.

“School districts are the educators, and that is a very important element of making sure that there are people going into the future who know about the climate, who care about the climate, and who can make that difference,” says Surrey for Future member Sebastian Sajda, who has worked with similar advocacy campaigns in the past.

“In both cases, it’s a matter of getting a public institution, which already has reporting duties and duties to cut emissions under B.C. law, to step up and use the latest science which is the IPCC report,” he says.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that, in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change, global emissions must be reduced to net zero by 2050. It also found that “a number of climate change impacts could be avoided by limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C or more.”

Surrey for Future was involved in organizing climate strikes in May and September last year, as well as a campaign which led the City of Surrey to declare a climate emergency and focus on targets for emissions reduction in early November.

“When the Surrey City Council declared a climate emergency, they then directed staff [and] they gave them certain timelines for updating the targets and making a plan to meet the targets, so that’s something that would also be included in the school board’s motion, ideally,” says Pedersen.

“The more work that is done at the municipal level, the less there has to be done at the national level,” says Richardson. “The work is already happening to meet national targets, so the more that we have in place already the easier it then becomes for the larger political landscape to be like, ‘Okay, we can actually do this.’”

She says she feels that “it’s just the moral thing to do.”

“I don’t want to give myself a pass on taking action. It is the biggest issue facing humanity and the natural world and everything,” she says. “I have a young daughter too, and it breaks my heart that things like our forests or oceans could be so different and so degraded by the time she’s an adult.”

Pedersen says she hopes that the SD36 campaign will have an influence on climate action efforts outside of Surrey as well.

“If the school districts, on their own, independently decide they’re actually going to choose a higher [emissions reduction] target than the province has mandated, then maybe eventually that pushes the needle on the province’s side as well,” she says.

“It’s super scary, but it’s also exciting. How many people get to say that they worked on the biggest challenge that humanity ever faced? I mean, everyone could say that if they came and joined us, right?”