Despite Yale’s ongoing commitment to decreasing its carbon footprint, the University’s greenhouse gas emissions rose in fiscal 2014.
On Friday, the Yale Office of Sustainability published its 2014 Greenhouse Gas Emissions Report, which outlines Yale’s targets for reducing emissions and current progress in curtailing the campus carbon footprint. The University announced that despite a 14 percent increase of the campus square footage since 2005, there has been a 14 percent reduction in carbon emissions.
“This slight increase can be attributed to the colder than average winter experienced in New England,” the report stated. “Unpredictable weather events, a growing campus, and increased energy demands require that we develop innovative and adaptive strategies to meet our 2020 goal.”
Last winter, Yale switched for a period from natural gas to the more carbon intensive oil, a decision that reflected the “unusually high demand,” the report stated. The Office of Sustainability said the University steam consumption would have been roughly five percent lower than in past years, if normalized for average weather conditions.
Compared to 2013 levels, Yale increased its total carbon emissions by 7441 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, the unit of greenhouse gases, according to the 2013–2014 released data. Although the sustainability office described this increase as “slight,” according to the EPA Greenhouse Gas Calculator, the rise is equivalent to CO2 emissions from 837,290 gallons of gasoline consumed or 6,099 acres of U.S. forests in one year.
Still, Office of Sustainability Project Manager Keri Enright-Kato wrote in an email that Yale is on-track to achieve its sustainability goals outlined in 2005. Yale plans to decrease its primary greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent from the 2005 levels by 2020.
She added that Yale will continue to take steps to increases its sustainability, including long-term strategies such as the conversion of the Sterling Power Plant in 2010 to a cogeneration — combined heat and power — facility and creating “adaptive strategies” in response to capital projects and challenges due to weather.
But some students argued this is not enough.
Fossil Free Yale member Alexandra Barlowe ’17 said any rise in carbon emissions is concerning, and Yale should do everything in its power to reduce emissions, specifically divesting University assets from fossil fuel companies.
She added that divestment, however, is not primarily concerned with emissions; rather it also focuses on the political climate regarding climate change. As a result, no amounts of sustainability initiatives will be enough to justify saying “no” to divesting the University’s assets from fossil fuels, she said.
Project Manager for FFY Mitch Barrows ’16 voiced similar sentiments. Though the University sustainability steps are commendable, they do not excuse Yale’s obligation to divest, he said.
“I full-heartedly believe that the University is committed to reducing its environmental impact, and I don’t find this year’s slight emissions increase very concerning given the rationale,” Barrows said. “However, Yale’s inconsistency lies in its investment practices — supporting the very industry whose dark money and political influence undermines the bulk of the University’s sustainability goals.”
In lieu of divesting University assets from fossil fuel companies, Salovey announced in August 2014 a series of measures to combat greenhouse gas emissions on campus. Two of the most notable initiatives include the creation of a carbon task force, charged with considering the feasibility of implementing an internal carbon tax, and the adoption of third-party verification for campus greenhouse gas inventory.
Enright-Kato said the Office of Sustainability has hired a greenhouse gas accounting firm in preparation of submitting data to the Climate Registry, as part of Yale’s third-party verification process. She said Yale will likely submit the University’s 2015 emissions to the Climate Registry, with verification in June 2016.
The data in the 2014 Greenhouse Gas Report include emissions through July 2014, one month prior to Salovey’s announcement of the sustainability initiatives.
Clarification, Dec. 9: