Despite its decision not to divest from fossil fuel companies, the University is embarking on a set of new initiatives aimed at reducing Yale’s carbon footprint.
In a Wednesday email to the Yale community, University President Peter Salovey announced six initiatives intended to mitigate the University’s greenhouse gas emissions. These include new Green Fellowships, increased deployment of renewable energy, school-specific sustainability plans, a $21 million capital investment for energy conservation, third-party verification of greenhouse gas emissions and the possibility of an internal carbon pricing mechanism. Though many students remain upset by the University’s unwillingness to divest, students and faculty interviewed who are involved in environmental issues said they are excited by the new plans.
“I think that if [Yale administrators] actually follow through with reducing carbon emissions … that certainly is a good step in the right direction,” said Don Mosteller FES ’15, who wrote a memo on sustainability at Yale that was sent to Salovey’s office last spring.
Calling climate change “the most important issue that faces the world in our time,” Salovey told the News that the University is committed to reducing its impact on the environment.
Of the University’s six initiatives, the possibility of an internal carbon pricing mechanism within Yale has generated the most discussion so far.
According to Salovey’s email, a program such as an internal carbon pricing mechanism could provide incentives for units within Yale “to reduce their carbon footprint in a way that is not administratively or economically burdensome.”
To decide whether an internal carbon pricing system could be implemented at Yale, Salovey has appointed a committee — chaired by Professor William Nordhaus and called the Presidential Carbon Charge Task Force — to examine whether such a system could be established.
Nordhaus said the task force will begin its deliberations with an open mind about whether to create a system and, if so, what form that system will take.
School of Management professor Sharon Oster, who will serve on the task force, said an internal carbon tax would generally be designed to help administrators and faculty throughout Yale make decisions while taking the school’s carbon footprint into account.
“The internal tax essentially replaces admonitions and rules with prices as a way to regulate behavior,” Oster said in an email. “Yale is a forward thinking university in many areas. Why not this one as well?”
Salovey noted in his email that the administration is unaware of any other university that has implemented an internal carbon tax. However a growing list of corporations and municipalities have introduced carbon pricing systems, including Microsoft, Disney and Google.
At Microsoft, all business groups are required to take a carbon fee into account when planning their budgets. This incentivizes groups to reduce their carbon emissions by increasing efficiency and using renewable resources, Microsoft has argued.
Jennifer Milikowsky FES ’15, who proposed the carbon pricing system in a policy memo presented to Salovey’s office, said that Yale could assert leadership by implementing such a system, a sentiment Salovey echoed in his email.
“I think it’s a way to really use Yale as a case study to demonstrate how a carbon tax could be designed and implemented, and then study the effectiveness of it,” Milikowsky said.
Yale Law School professor Daniel Esty LAW ’86 echoed Milikowsky’s point, suggesting that the University can serve as a catalyst for action on climate change.
Calling the carbon pricing system “the very best way to address the problem of climate change,” Esty noted Yale’s important role in developing policy frameworks that have applications well beyond its walls.
“The possibility of Yale implementing some sort of carbon charge represents a big breakthrough that could have repercussions well beyond the Yale campus and represents significant leadership,” Esty said.
Still, Mosteller noted that Nordhaus’ committee can only make a recommendation. Ultimately, he said, it is up to the administration to follow through.
Nordhaus’ committee will include students. On Thursday, the Yale College Council emailed the student body soliciting applications for spaces on the committee.
The potential carbon pricing mechanism comes together with five other proposals also targeted at reducing the University’s carbon emissions. The University’s current goal is to reduce greenhouse emissions by 43 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. Thus far, it has reduced them by 16 percent.
“[The announcements] are pretty fantastic and ambitious steps,” said Melissa Goodall, the assistant director in Yale’s Office of Sustainability.
The $21 million investment for energy conservation will put $7 million each year into capital projects to improve energy conservation across campus. Included in those funds will be an “Energy Solutions Fund,” totaling $100,000 per year, earmarked for student proposals focused on energy conservation.
The University will also install a 1.25-megawatt array of solar panels at West Campus, which will cover 350,000 square feet of roof. Once installed, the panels will help Yale avoid 500 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year.
Furthermore, Yale will become a member of the Climate Registry, a nonprofit aimed at increasing transparency about greenhouse gas emissions by putting them into a single online repository.
Registering will allow for third-party verification of Yale’s disclosures on its greenhouse gas emissions. Salovey said he will ask other schools within the Ivy League to become members as well.
Salovey will also ask the Sustainability Advisory Council, chaired by Professors Brad Gentry and Michelle Addington, to evaluate whether Yale’s sustainability goals are ambitious enough.
Still, members of Fossil Free Yale — which advocated that the University divest its assets from fossil fuel companies — said that the measures do not go far enough.
“It seems the actions are totally insufficient,” said Patrick Reed ’16, a founding member of Fossil Free Yale. “It doesn’t match up.”
At a candlelit vigil on Wednesday night, members of Fossil Free Yale resolved to continue pressing the University to eliminate its holdings in fossil fuel companies.
Divestment is “not an issue that’s going to go away,” Mosteller said.
In October 2013, Salovey announced a new strategic plan on sustainability through 2016.