University announces details of climate action strategy
In order to achieve zero actual carbon emissions on campus by 2050, the University will modify the Yale Carbon Charge and increase renewable energy use.
Logan Howard, Contributing Photographer
On Tuesday, the University announced new steps toward its goal of achieving zero carbon emissions from campus by 2050. The details of the climate action strategy include generating new funding for climate research and changes to the Yale Carbon Charge to revamp the University’s energy consumption.
In June, President Peter Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel reported that the University had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent from 2005 to 2020. They also announced the University’s goal of achieving zero actual carbon emissions on campus by 2050, with the expectation that Yale would reach net zero carbon emissions by 2035. On Tuesday, the University announced that, by 2035, it will reduce actual emissions by 65 percent from 2015 levels.
“We are hopeful that this plan will help our campus community think critically about the energy we use and the spaces we inhabit, and how … we can be as resourceful and responsible as possible,” Amber Garrard, Yale Office of Sustainability associate director, wrote to the News. “Getting to zero emissions will require us to shift behaviors and expectations to a certain degree, and we hope this is a challenge that members of our community will embrace.”
The University will employ various methods to achieve a carbon-zero campus by 2050, primarily through electrification. The climate action strategy includes preparing campus buildings for electrified heating and rooftops for solar panels, along with “space-use policies that support emissions reductions.” Future campus construction will feature renewable energy sources such as photovoltaic solar arrays and geothermal wells with heat pumps. Currently, there are more than 400 campus buildings to modify.
Over the next 30 years, the climate action strategy is projected to cost approximately $1.5 billion. The Office of Sustainability outlined a “three-pronged financing strategy,” starting with modifying the Yale Carbon Charge, which charges each top administrative unit for the emissions its buildings produce. Starting in the 2023 fiscal year, each budgetary unit will contribute funding based on its current emissions.
The University will also begin an incremental increase in the carbon charge from $20 per metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2023 to $50 in 2025. The revenue from the Yale Carbon Charge will fund about 10 percent of investments toward eliminating carbon emissions on campus.
“The charge also serves to engage the entire Yale community in this effort: by ensuring contributions from the current generation using these buildings, and by offering greater understanding of emissions and a financial incentive to reduce them,” the climate action strategy reads.
The University contributes $15 million per year in capital expenditures to greenhouse gas emission reduction initiatives. This amount will increase to $25 million, according to the climate action strategy announced on Tuesday. The University may also expand the capital budget to fund emission reduction projects.
Another key tenet of the climate action strategy is the increase of renewable energy use, including the continued use of solar panels. The University also intends to use technology like biomass gasification, deep earth geothermal heat and green hydrogen processes to meet campus energy needs, starting in the mid-2030s. However, the climate action strategy does not include a time frame for reaching 100 percent renewable energy use.
Katie Schlick ’22, the sustainability liaison for Silliman College and the former co-president of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, expressed concern about the climate action plan’s emphasis on 2035 and 2050 as goals to reach net zero carbon emissions and zero actual carbon emissions on campus, respectively. Adrian Huq, co-founder of the New Haven Climate Movement Youth Action Team, also said that the 2050 goal “is too far in the future.”
At the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COP26, taking place this week, Biden and other leaders have dubbed the years leading up to 2030 as “the decisive decade” for climate change action.
Earlier this year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that without urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, the earth’s global warming will surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius and lead to “irreversible” damage to ecosystems and communities worldwide.
Yale’s climate action strategy includes just one mention of the 2030 date, stating that “we are confident that by 2030 we will have completed a significant number of conservation and renewable energy projects and will have a clearer picture of the road to 2050.”
Schlick expressed excitement for the climate action strategy but emphasized the need for student and faculty involvement in order to make more significant sustainable changes on campus. As a first-year counselor, she hopes to eventually see the implementation of a sustainability orientation for first years and other social infrastructure to bolster sustainability initiatives at the University.
“Students are the greatest resource that Yale has,” Schlick said. “We should be investing not just in big ways to shift energy consumption but also in smaller ways to make sure that policies take hold in the culture here.”
Garrard added that the University’s efforts to address climate change will create opportunities for students to take part in “crafting solutions to shape a better world.”
The climate action strategy also outlines the use of carbon offsets to “supplement, not replace, on-campus reductions” and meet net emission targets. Entities can purchase a carbon offset, which represents the emission reduction of one metric ton of carbon dioxide and then “retire” it to count as their own emissions reduction. The University retired 48,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide against its own carbon footprint in 2020.
Though the city of New Haven and the University both have goals to reduce emissions, Huq and Schlick pointed out that the climate action strategy does not mention collaboration with the city.
“It’s strange that Yale continues to be in their bubble when we are sharing a city,” Huq said. “Our emissions don’t know any borders.”
The Office of Sustainability is located at 70 Whitney Avenue.