Accelerated climate neutrality proposal presented to faculty

At the Sept. 10 Faculty Senate meeting, the Climate Neutrality Acceleration Working Group presented its proposal to change the university’s climate neutrality target date to 2035 from 2050.

Speaking on behalf of the group, Mike Hoffmann, associate dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Brian Chabot, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology; Todd Cowen, professor of civil and environmental engineering; and Katherine McComas, chair of the Department of Communication, shared ideas that have been presented to Cornell President David Skorton.

The group outlined first-step priorities for the next year to achieve carbon neutrality by 2035. The report will be presented to the college deans, as well as to the Cornell University Board of Trustees, which will hear a presentation in October. The Climate Neutrality Acceleration Working Group will continue to assess the viability of changing the target date until mid-2015, when the new date may be folded into an updated Climate Action Plan.

Since 2007, Cornell has reduced its carbon emissions by 32 percent. “We must adopt a more-aggressive goal, and it is essential we have a common goal,” said Chabot. He said that among peer institutions, “Cornell is seen as a role model” in carbon neutrality.

Aside from the mechanical aspects of improving building efficiency and bolstering renewable energy sources, the working group wants to incorporate more education and engagement of student learning, faculty research and staff participation.

“We need cultural and behavioral change,” said Cowen, faculty director for energy at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. “We need to change the way we approach this,” he said.

Nationally, Cowen said other institutions and municipalities look to Cornell to achieve climate-neutrality goals on a campus-community scale. “If we can’t do it, we’re [as a nation] in big trouble,” Cowen said.

Cowen discussed such successful projects as Lake Source Cooling and the Cornell Combined Heat and Power Plant and touched on a possible future project: a deep geothermal project to heat campus buildings. “No [other university, municipality or corporation at this scale] in the Northeast is doing this,” Cowen said.

 In 2007 Skorton signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The university’s Climate Action Plan was launched in 2009 and updated last year. Last December, the Faculty Senate passed a resolution that called for Cornell to revise its Climate Action Plan to set a goal of carbon neutrality by 2035.

In response to the resolution, Skorton asked Dean of the University Faculty Joseph Burns and Vice President for Facilities Services KyuJung Whang to establish a faculty and administrative working group to accelerate Cornell’s progress toward climate neutrality. Hoffmann and Bert Bland, senior director for energy and sustainability in Facilities Services, served as chairs for the Acceleration Working Group. The group reported its recommendations to Skorton in June.

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John Carberry