In its most high-profile move yet toward sustainability goals, Cornell has joined about 80 other colleges and universities in pledging bold efforts toward reducing emissions of greenhouse gases associated with global warming, chief among them carbon dioxide (CO2).
After reviewing the recommendations of a committee co-chaired by Carolyn Ainslie, vice president for planning and budget and Stephen Golding, executive vice president for finance and administration, President David Skorton signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. Skorton issued the following statement Thursday, Feb. 22.
"Today, I am honored to announce that I am signing, on behalf of Cornell University, the American University and College Presidents Climate Commitment. By this act, we commit to developing a plan for the university to achieve climate neutrality, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, starting on our main campus in Ithaca, N.Y. Today's signature will allow the university to serve in a leadership position as a member of the Commitment's Leadership Circle.
"There is no doubt that this undertaking enjoys broad interest throughout the campus community. It will require enormous efforts and a lot of creativity over the years and decades ahead. Cornell's undertaking, while momentous in its occasion, represents a continuation of a proud history of research, teaching and campus stewardship to reduce its environmental footprint, most notably through the success of the Lake Source Cooling project, building LEED certified housing for students on West Campus, and most recently the university's Combined Heat and Power Project.
"Cornell is positioned to take a leadership role in sustainability education and research because of our tradition of collaboration across boundaries and the broad scope of our fields and colleges. For instance, faculty work together on fuel cell development, biomass/biofuels and alternate energy sources more generally; on soil health as well as animal and human health and medicine; on sustainable business practices and on water management; on integrated approaches to problems of sustainability in the developing world; and on sustainable design and building, indoor air quality, and environmental law.
"Because there are no real cost-effective solutions to achieve climate neutrality today, a strong emphasis on education and research, coupled with the willingness to make the tough decisions now, will produce meaningful answers for tomorrow. The complexity of the challenge we assume today, which has been of such widespread concern throughout our community, will require all of our energies and wisdom. While today's announcement is about the quality of the stewardship of our university, we should not lose sight that Cornell's education and research already contribute to society's capacity to protect the environment. And, by pursuing in tandem these three facets of our work on sustainability, we will add fresh momentum and foster the kind of innovations that occur when looking beyond the traditional disciplinary boundaries.
"We will use our leadership opportunity to encourage more public and private investments in investigations that will yield better understanding of the underlying science and, therefore, better approaches to the problems. By signing the Presidents Climate Commitment, Cornell is embarking on an important journey to do its part to address global climate change and to make American campuses more sustainable. By working together, we can make a difference for Cornell and for the world at large.
"I applaud the determination of our student body, the dedication of our staff and the path-finding work of our faculty, all of whom contributed to making this decision possible. In particular, I commend the KyotoNOW! students and other members of the Ad Hoc Committee for President's Climate Commitment, headed by Stephen Golding, executive vice president for finance and administration, and Carolyn Ainslie, vice president for planning and budget. Their timely and diligent work, and their commitment, are evident in the results of their labors.
"Now, let us turn our attention to the hard work at hand. In the months ahead, I will be consulting with members of the community as we proceed with the planning process that is required to successfully achieve climate neutrality across our great institution, starting on campus in Ithaca, N.Y."
David J. Skorton