Niklas Agarwal, 2016 Finalist

Niklas Agarwal, 2016 Finalist

AGE: 20
HOMETOWN: Toronto, ON 

Although both Niklas’ parents were immigrants to Canada, he feels as though he had a unique experience from other first generation Canadians. For example, his parents were not afraid to take him camping in Ontario’s parks while he was still an infant -- even in below freezing temperatures. These experiences built his appreciation for the natural environment, but it was watching the documentary An Inconvenient Truth that really started Niklas on the path to environmentalism. He was deeply struck by what is currently happening to our environment and the very tangible consequences shown in the film.

He then became the leader of his high school environmental team, advocating for an orchard garden to reduce and offset emissions. When he felt pushback from classmates, he realized environmentalism and reversing climate change are things that must be fought for. He then became involved in climate activism, protests, and eventually his own incredible initiatives at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

As a Coordinator of Events and Outreach for UBC’s student-run Common Energy group, Niklas leads 12 students and facilitates weekly meetings to plan sustainability events. Last semester, he and his team organized a successful event called Winterfest, a celebration of sustainability and being outdoors in winter. He coordinated musicians, poets, and workshops for this event, which had a turnout of 300 students.

Niklas is currently Chair of UBC’s Student Environment Center (SEC), a resource group that organizes sustainability events and funds student environmental initiatives, such as documentary screenings, a conservation speaker series, and a “learn to camp” program. Recently, SEC has pushed for UBC clubs and faculty committees to incorporate a Sustainability Representative executive position in their organizations.    

Inspired by an “un-conference” he attended off campus, Niklas helped organize a similar event at UBC, where students, professors, and professionals could discuss the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. An un-conference flips a regular conference on its side to be more collaborative. Niklas feels that students are often treated as if they are voiceless and are simply on campus to learn. So, during this event, students ran sessions themselves! He felt this was an opportunity to give students a voice and received feedback afterward from people who felt empowered by and appreciative of the event.

Right now, Niklas is working on a project in which students will be encouraged to submit artwork specific to nature, which reflects his philosophy of bringing people together through an interdisciplinary approach to environmentalism.

According to his co-coordinator, Mila Mezei, Niklas is humble, dedicated, pure of intention, and is the glue that holds each project together. He is a modest leader who does not boast of his accomplishments, but instead quietly does the nitty-gritty work to make a project happen. He also has a very gentle demeanor and constantly empowers others to have their ideas heard. He further incorporates sustainable practices in his own life and encourages others to do so by leading by example.

Niklas is now developing an interest in preparing cities for climate change and making cities a solution to it, rather than a driver of it. He would eventually like to visit sustainable cities around the world and attend graduate school. His passion has evolved from urban agriculture and climate advocacy to sustainable cities, and Niklas expects to become interested in other topics down the road, but he knows for sure he will always be in the field of environmentalism. Niklas would like to thank his parents for their support and all the groups and people he has had the pleasure to collaborate with in bringing about positive, sustainable change.


  • Niklas went to PowerShift twice: once in Ottawa and once in Victoria.

  • Niklas has been involved in Common Energy at UBC for three years, serving as Campaign Coordinator last year and Coordinator of Events & Outreach this year. Niklas initiated and led many Common Energy projects, such as the Mug Share campaign, Earth Hour celebration, and a campus-wide waste audit.

  • Niklas participated in a collaborative program called CityStudio, where students, professionals, and community members work together to implement sustainability projects in Vancouver. Niklas’ team worked on creating a new communication method for the design of public space while also developing solutions for people to gather in and move through spaces.

  • Niklas is Chair of the Student Environment Center (SEC) at UBC.

  • Niklas crowd-sourced a document of recommendations for the UBC AMS (Alma Mater Society) to take to Paris for the climate negotiations last September.

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