Yale has joined a global network of businesses combating climate change, but some energy experts say the University’s carbon footprint reduction strategies are still not comprehensive enough.
On March 14, Yale announced at the World Bank’s Corporate Carbon Pricing Leadership Workshop in Mumbai that it would join the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, a partnership of governments, nonprofits and private sector companies working to strengthen carbon-pricing policies. Yale was the first university in the world to implement a carbon-pricing program, with a pilot program launching in November 2015, and it was also the first university to join the coalition. Yale’s six-month-long pilot program monitors the energy output of a number of campus buildings and seeks to change the energy use habits of students, faculty and staff.
Increasingly, Yale has begun to harness international networks like the coalition to engage with a larger range of businesses and universities working to improve carbon charge systems, both at the national and local levels. Yale Carbon Charge Project Coordinator Ryan Laemel ’14, along with Jennifer Milikowsky FES ’15 SOM ’15, represented the University last week at the India Climate Policy and Business Conclave in New Delhi, which took place the day after the World Bank’s Mumbai workshop.
“We hope to learn from, and add to, the CPLC’s network of companies, governments and nonprofits,” Laemel said. “I find the potential for collaborative, leading-edge research on policy solutions and institutional design particularly exciting.”
Although Yale’s role as a member of the CPLC is still undefined, Laemel said membership will give Yale opportunities for further research into carbon pricing. Yale will collaborate with CPLC member companies to research better ways to implement carbon pricing.
Yale is one of a small but growing number of institutions across the world looking to use carbon pricing to improve their energy efficiency, said Yale environmental law and policy professor Daniel Esty LAW ’86, who will help lead campus discussions about how Yale can contribute to the CPLC. Esty said there will be challenges in implementing the carbon charge program on campus, but he said Yale is well-positioned to demonstrate how carbon pricing can work.
But even as Yale joins forces with the likes of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, other schools may still be miles ahead of Yale in the energy efficiency arena. While Yale’s sustainability leaders extolled the University’s new carbon-pricing program, some experts in the sustainability community said the new program is not targeting the problem of carbon emissions at its source: campus power plants.
“[Schools] talk a lot, but they don’t want to back it up with actual action. Just go clean up the power plant, man, it’s that easy,” said Joseph Stagner, executive director of Sustainability and Energy Management at Stanford University. An extensive carbon reduction program at Stanford successfully reduced Stanford’s carbon footprint by 70 percent over five years.
Stagner said Stanford found that a carbon charge system like Yale’s, which puts the onus on students and faculty to change their energy consumption behavior, has a limited ability to substantially reduce carbon emissions. Only around 5 percent of all possible carbon reduction action can be taken by the campus community, he said, which means a carbon charge system has minimal power to reduce emissions.
Instead of charging campus buildings and trying to change community members’ behavior, Stagner said, universities should change the way they produce energy, going to the utilities and transportation directors to find renewable energy options.
“You can tax students and administrators, but all you’re doing is collecting money,” he said of carbon charge programs. “It’s a hope-based system. You might as well cut to the chase. If you’re serious about reducing the carbon footprint of the campus, map out what your footprint is.”
Yale’s Office of Sustainability is currently in the process of measuring the University’s greenhouse gas inventory for fiscal year 2015, Laemel said.
Despite some critiques of Yale’s model, Laemel said other institutions have expressed interest in adopting carbon charge programs like Yale’s. According to Yale Office of Sustainability Director Virginia Chapman ARC ’85, Vassar College, Swarthmore College, Duke University, the University of Oregon and several University of California schools have made inquiries into Yale’s carbon charge program.
“Now that Yale has become the first university member of the CPLC, we hope more will join Yale in this effort,” Laemel said.
In an effort to connect with other peer institutions, the Office of Sustainability has engaged in a number of inter-school sustainability groups including the Ivy Plus Sustainability Consortium, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education and the Northeast Campus Sustainability Consortium, Chapman said.
In a March 11 letter to the World Bank Group, President Peter Salovey said he was pleased that Yale’s Carbon Charge Project had generated international interest, adding that he hopes the new partnership with the CPLC will inspire Yale’s peers to take similar steps toward advancing carbon pricing.
In addition to the Carbon Charge Program, Yale has also recently built a 1.34-megawatt rooftop solar array on West Campus and invested $21 million in on-campus energy efficiency.