Campus bid to cut emissions

March 30, 2007

US universities are keen to take lead on climate change, says Jon Marcus

US university presidents, frustrated by government inaction to curb global warming, are signing a pact to cut campus carbon emissions to zero.

So far, 146 schools have joined the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which follows initiatives taken by mayors of more than 400 US cities and the governors of several states.

"We recognise that the scientific consensus is that global warming is real and is largely caused by humans," the presidents says. "We further recognise the need to reduce the global emission of greenhouse gases by 80 per cent by mid-century at the latest to avert the worst impacts of global warming."

Universities are helping to "establish the mindset of the general public", said Tony Cortese, co-director of the project and president of Second Nature, an organisation underwritten by Senator John Kerry and his philanthropist wife to encourage sustainability in higher education.

"They are training the future professionals and leaders. Our ability in the next 40-50 years to transform the economy to one that becomes carbonless is absolutely critical. Without their efforts to do the research and provide the training, there is no way we can make that transition."

Among the signatories to the pact are schools with as many as 65,000 students. Large campuses in the US "are like small cities, and they do all the same things most municipalities do". Mr Cortese said. "Collectively their impact is significant. As a place for a demonstration of new ways of operating and living, they are significant players."

He added: "I would expect the federal Government to lead rather than follow. But the fact that the higher education institutions are adding their voice to this symphony of voices of mayors and governors and some individuals and certainly the non-governmental organisations is likely to have an important effect."

But the universities have given themselves considerable latitude to meet the challenge. Each has two months to set up a committee to study the issue, another year to inventory its greenhouse emissions and two years to come up with an action plan.

Mr Cortese said the flexibility is due to the variations in institution size, and locations and climates. "The universities are around the country and range from schools with 500 students to 65,000. They have different energy sources," he said. "So we wanted them to be able to come up with different ways to meet this commitment."


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