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Call to CMC Board of Trustees: Adopt a 2030 Carbon Neutrality Target

For CMC to continue its mission of leadership and guidance in the face of climate change, it should shift the date of its carbon neutrality target from 2050 to 2030, a target that is common among similar institutions of higher education.

In 2007, Claremont McKenna College (CMC) joined over 250 institutions of higher education in its decision to adopt a 2050 carbon neutrality target under the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). An entity achieves carbon neutrality when its activities produce no net climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions, which enables the entity to reduce emissions at offsite locations if it cannot eliminate all the emissions it produces. By committing to the ACUPCC, CMC recognized its “position among [its] institutional peers as well as the position its faculty, students, and staff have in[...] providing leadership and guidance to the local community when it comes to climate change.”

Since 2007, a growing number of institutions of higher education, businesses, and governments have taken carbon neutrality pledges, with many pledging to become carbon neutral before 2050. Of institutions of higher education with carbon neutrality targets, 266 of the 533 have adopted targets earlier than 2034. Pomona College and a host of other elite institutions of higher education have 2030 carbon neutrality targets, and the University of California system has a 2025 carbon neutrality target. Phillips, Bank of America, and Carlsberg Group are among a number of multinational corporations that have committed to carbon neutrality targets before or by 2030. In September 2018, former California Governor Jerry Brown issued an executive order B-55-18, which augments California’s suite of ambitious climate and energy policies by committing California to economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2045. In light of these and other commitments, which illustrate the feasibility of achieving carbon neutrality far earlier than 2050, CMC’s rationale for originally adopting the 2050 carbon neutrality target— leadership and guidance in the face of climate change— is no longer legitimate.

To ensure this rationale maintains legitimacy, two members of the Environmental Affairs Committee (EAC), Andrew Bradjan ‘22 and I, Sam Becker ‘19, are working with CMC administrators, Facilities staff, and Master Plan architects to bump the target to 2030. Since creating EAC in fall 2015, the 12-member Committee and I have catalyzed institutional support for developing, funding, and implementing environmental initiatives, all of which has built momentum for establishing a more ambitious carbon neutrality target. When the Master Plan update was announced last semester, I saw an opportune moment for the 2030 push and recruited Andrew for the project. Andrew has consulted with administrators and staff from various CMC departments to create CMC’s first comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions inventory in nearly a decade. The inventory is an essential tool in charting pathways to carbon neutrality by 2030. Andrew and I are in the process of analyzing the inventory and later this month we will present our analysis to the Board of Trustees, who will decide whether to adopt the 2030 target.

The following actions would increase the feasibility of achieving a 2030 carbon neutrality target at CMC. First, installing campus-wide smart meters, which are integral to monitoring energy demand, consumption, and return on energy efficiency investments. Facilities staff have already been working diligently to install these meters and will likely complete installation in the 2019/2020 academic year. Second, hiring a full-time sustainability coordinator to oversee the creation and implementation of an environmentally-comprehensive and economically-efficient Carbon Neutrality Scoping Plan, collect and manage emission data, write grants, and work on other objectives relevant to achieving the target.

The Environmental Affairs Committee is currently working with administrators to create this position. Third, investing in the development of a large-scale solar array, which would offset emissions and provide a return on investment immediately or after a few years depending on the financing mechanism. Such an investment would stand in contrast to the purchase of renewable energy certificates or other emissions-offsetting instruments, which offset emissions but do not provide any return on investment. Fourth, establishing a committee of students, staff, faculty, and Master Plan architects that meets at least once per semester to assess progress with respect to the Carbon Neutrality Scoping Plan. Fifth, developing and maintaining knowledge-sharing partnerships with sustainability personnel at the 5Cs, other institutions of higher education, businesses, and government institutions.

CMC has the opportunity to join a growing group of institutions of higher education, businesses, and governments that are proving climate change mitigation is a realistic endeavor. By adopting the 2030 target, CMC can regain its commitment to leadership and guidance in the face of climate change, a commitment that has never been more important.

Editor’s Note: This is an opinion article and the views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of The Forum or the Editorial Board.


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