ACUPCC institutions have committed to achieving climate neutrality "as soon as possible". In their CAPs, ACUPCC schools need to identify a date for achieving climate neutrality as well as dates for achieving interim emissions reduction goals.
Colleges and universities not participating in the ACUPCC need to define their GHG emissions goals not only in terms of emissions reductions targets and dates for achieving them but also in terms of the categories of GHG emissions to be reduced. Conceivably emissions reduction goals can be established separately for Scope 1, 2, and 3 categories of GHG emissions. ACUPCC signatories may also choose to state interim targets by emissions scope type.
In all cases, campus GHG emissions reduction goals should be challenging and they should encourage colleges and universities to demonstrate real leadership by committing to significant reductions and achieving the lion’s share of them very quickly. Leading climatologists like NASA’s Jim Hansen have said that the window for action is closing and that if we – as a species -- do not make significant progress reversing GHG emissions trends within the next ten years, it will be too late to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. Thus, it is time for action. Campus climate action plans must be deemed failures if they do not produce the rapid response that is needed.
What is a reasonable timeframe for ACUPCC schools to achieve climate neutrality? Given Hansen’s plea, ten years or less seems right in order to demonstrate the kind of leadership that is needed now. That period is long enough to do big things yet short enough to be well within the careers of many or most of your CAP key players – maybe even your president. If your climate neutrality dates are pushed too far into the future, they will seem abstract and may undermine serious action now – when that action is so important. Your GHG emissions targets should create some tension and pressure to accelerate action.
While comparisons with other institutions are not always appropriate or helpful, it's worth examining GHG emissions reduction goals established by other colleges and universities. AASHE maintains a list of campus climate commitments, and the commitments of ACUPCC signatories will be posted on the ACUPCC's online reporting system.
In establishing GHG emissions reduction goals and targets your CAP team may want to use both forecasting and back-casting methods.
Forecasting involves examining future options to reduce GHG emissions and determining from that analysis how soon you can reach them. A forecasting process involves identifying likely or possible GHG emissions strategies and projects, evaluating and prioritizing them, placing them on a timeline for implementation, and then calculating how much GHG emissions reductions these projects can achieve in successive years.
Typically, forecasting involves creating a number of scenarios with increasing levels of commitment. One scenario might be “easily do-able.” Another, “more challenging.” And a third representing an “all-out effort.” More creative or entertaining language can be developed for these scenarios, such as the “No Brainer,” “No Regrets,” and “Take No Prisoners” scenarios from the Oberlin College Climate Neutral by 2020 report prepared in 2002 by Rocky Mountain Institute. Your planning team develops the scenarios and determines what projects and measures would be required to accomplish them.
Back-casting operates in the reverse direction; it projects backwards. With back-casting your CAP team would hypothetically establish various dates for achieving your carbon emissions goals and then work backwards from each to see what would have to be done during the intervening years to achieve that level of reduction.
Once scenarios are internally defined and analyzed, your CAP team should seek public comment from the campus community perhaps through a series of presentations or town meetings. The scenarios with accompanying GHG reduction trajectories could also be presented on your CAP website with an easy mechanism provided to solicit electronic comments.
Comments received through these feedback mechanisms need to be addressed by your CAP team. This process may result in the modification or abandonment of certain scenarios and targets.
Once feedback is considered, your CAP team may wish to weigh all options again and then either go back out to the campus community for more comments or move directly to preparing a proposal for campus leadership. That proposal might be a specific scenario to achieve “X” reduction by “Y” date. Or it might be a prioritized list of different scenarios with different targets In any event, your president and campus leadership should not be surprised by your CAP team’s submittal. The CAP process can only work if your president and key campus leaders are involved and on-board each step of the way.
Getting to your carbon goal will be an incremental process involving a multitude of steps, measures, and projects. To help keep you on track, interim goals with accompanying dates should be established against which you can measure progress and see whether the trajectory you’re on matches the one you should be on. To be relevant to the climate change danger we face, your glide path should be downward pointing on as steep a trajectory as possible.
Detailed GHG emissions reduction scenarios produce downward sloping emissions trajectories. These can be graphed to facilitate comparisons. This graph below is from UC Berkeley Climate Action Partnership: Feasibility Study 2006- 2007 Final Report. It shows a business as usual trajectory of ever increasing emissions plus a number of other trajectories based on different targets or scenarios. This graph compares a UC Berkeley 2020 trajectory (blue line) and target with a State of California trajectory and target (green line). It shows that in the short term neither trajectory is as aggressive as that crated by the Kyoto Protocol 2012 target (purple line).
Reprinted from UC Berkeley Climate Action Partnership Feasibility Study 2006- 2007 with permission of UC Berkeley.
Once a given climate action plan and emissions reduction scenario is approved by your president and administration, its trajectory can be used to identify interim targets. Those interim targets become part of your CAP.
What happens if internal GHG emission reduction efforts are insufficient to meet an established CAP interim target? Your school has a number of options. It could:
It’s important that colleges and universities committed to addressing climate change make good faith efforts to meet interim targets on the way to achieving their long range GHG emissions reduction goals despite bumps in the road. Of course, there may be pleasant surprises as well that enable institutions to meet interim-targets ahead of time and continue on an accelerated timetable.
In addition to absolute reductions in GHG emissions, there are others ways to show progress or the lack of it. For this purpose of interim goals and targets you could also use normalized or relative data such as:
In all cases, you would hope these indices trend steadily in a downward direction.
Normalized or relative measures can be particularly helpful on campuses that are in an expansion (or contraction) mode. If your student body is growing or your school is constructing new buildings, normalized measures like GHG emissions per student or per square foot may allow you to show progress even when your overall GHG emissions are not shrinking very quickly or at all. Just remember that our collective overall human species goal is to actually reduce GHG emissions in absolute terms. That’s what we must strive for.
Note that when calculating GHG emissions per annual heating or cooling degree days, it is important that only the GHG emissions caused by campus heating or cooling energy consumption be adjusted. Non-heating and non-cooling-related GHG emissions caused by “baseload” energy use, e.g. lights, motors, and plug loads, must be excluded – or else the data produced by this kind of analysis will be skewed and possibly meaningless. Clean Air-Cool Planet is attempting to modify its Campus Carbon Calculator to take this into account.
In 2004, S. Pacala and R. Socolow published an article in *Science *magazine entitled, “Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next Fifty Years with Current Technologies.” This article popularized the concept of emissions reduction wedges. In their article, Pacala and Socolow proposed using seven wedges, each representing a GHG emissions reduction strategy capable of eventually reducing U.S. GHG emissions by 1 gigaton of CO2e per year by 2054. Pacala and Socolow identified 15 technologically feasible wedges capable of achieving that kind of performance. Their discussion assumed an initial “business as usual” upward trajectory for U.S. fossil fuel energy use and GHG emissions. Pacala and Socolow’s goal was merely to show how implementing seven wedges over this fifty year period could hold U.S. overall GHG emissions at a steady 7 gigatons. A wedge analysis can also illustrate strategies that can reduce emissions.
This graph shows wedge analysis at work for achieving real reductions from a prior baseline:
Pacala and Socolow defined and calculated their fifteen possible “wedges” in these categories:
Obviously, these are all big ticket items for national policy application. Campus wedges would be defined differently – perhaps one for each mitigation strategy detailed in Section 4 of this report or for different projects and measures. This graph illustrates Cornell University’s strategy for achieving climate neutrality:
Image courtesy of Cornell University
Emissions reduction wedges are one tool of many that campuses can use to define, conceptualize or present their climate action plans. The Solutions Module of the CA-CP Campus Carbon Calculator Version 6 contains a wedge analysis tool