Feature Stories


Kailyn Klotz, Sustainability Fellow, May 2018


The University of California Partners with Leading Research Universities to Form UC3

Indicated by the number of signatures on the Paris Climate Accord, the majority of the world is in agreement that action must be taken to combat the devastating effects greenhouse gas emissions have on our planet. Under President Obama, the US was one of the first to sign the agreement when it was established in 2015, but in June of 2017 President Trump announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.

To many, the withdrawal was seen as a major setback, however, a number of individuals, organizations and institutions have also seen it as an opportunity to address climate change with a more ground-up approach. For example, the We Are Still In declaration, released only days after Trump’s announcement to withdraw, reaffirms support for the agreement from participating states, cities, businesses, colleges and universities. America’s Pledge is a related initiative led by organizations determined to drive down their own greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the goals of the Paris Accord. 

The University of California (UC), made up of ten campuses across the state, has had its eyes set on its own emissions reductions goals since all ten UC chancellors signed a commitment in 2007 for their campuses to become carbon neutral as soon as possible. When Janet Napolitano arrived as the new president of the UC system in fall 2013, she and the ten chancellors launched a Carbon Neutrality Initiative with the goal of all UC campuses achieving carbon neutrality in their buildings and vehicles by 2025.  As another response to the nation’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, UC President Janet Napolitano organized the University Climate Change Coalition, or UC3. The coalition is made up of 13 of North America’s top research universities, all with strict carbon reduction commitments already in place. According to Matthew St. Clair, Director of Sustainability at UC Office of the President, “[President Napolitano] wanted to figure out what the contribution from major research universities could be to assuring urgent action on climate change.”

Launched in February 2018 at the Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in Tempe, Arizona, the UC3 plans on leveraging its research and resources to be used as a collaborative model for communities to build from in order meet their own climate goals. The UC3 universities are committed to sharing their expertise in partnership with other businesses, cities and states as a way to accelerate climate action.

One way resources are being mobilized is through cross-sector forums convened by each of the universities as a way to bring together leaders from local governments, businesses and universities for collaboration on solutions to climate change. The University of California’s forum served to launch a new California Collaborative for Climate Change Solutions, or C4S, on April 4, 2018 in Sacramento. “It was a statewide event with participation from all UC campuses and Cal Tech, who is also a UC3 member, but we [also] invited the Cal State system, Stanford and the University of Southern California,” shared St. Clair. “We had the heads of four different state agencies that fund climate research and create climate policy.” Governor Jerry Brown also made an appearance and expressed support for increasing state funding for climate solutions research. “We received helpful guidance from the state agencies who were excited about all of the state’s research universities collaborating to help the state achieve its aggressive climate goals,” St. Clair said. The post-forum report provides a more in-depth review of what was discussed and identifies solutions with the potential to accelerate California’s climate mitigation actions.

In addition to the University of California’s post-forum report, an entire coalition-wide report is planned to be released at Governor Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit scheduled for September. The report will emphasize best practices, policies and recommendations for climate change solutions generated from all the UC3 member’s 2018 forums. It will provide a framework for not only UC3 universities to build upon, but also for other organizations across the country and globe as well.

“The University of California system is thrilled to partner with this group of preeminent research universities on an issue that has long been a major strategic priority for all of our institutions,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “No one is better positioned than we are to scale up research-based climate solutions.”

As a graduate health sciences research university, UC San Francisco (UCSF) is responsible for the unique environmental burdens it places on our environment (e.g., large quantities of medical and lab waste, high energy use appliances, and anesthesia gases).  It is important that UCSF is an asset to the coalition and addresses these burdens through our own initiatives and research, as well as achieve the UC-wide sustainability goals under the Sustainable Practices Policy. “UCSF researchers don’t directly work on climate solutions, but they do study the many health impacts of climate change,” St. Clair explained, “UCSF faculty are doing great work incorporating climate change into the curriculum so that future health professionals understand the connections between climate change and public health.” For example, earlier this school year Carbon Neutrality Initiative Fellows offered a 10 week elective course entitled ‘Women, the Environment and Physician Activism: Encouraging Activism through Education,’ which covered topics like inequality, prenatal health and sustainable food practices. Another team of CNI fellows in the School of Pharmacy is currently offering a offering a 10-week seminar course called Earth Health. “Researchers and students that are future health professionals are messengers for climate action and that is an important role UCSF is playing,” said St. Clair.

Additionally, The UCSF Office of Sustainability’s Climate Changes Health campaign posters can be found all over campus and emphasize the health risks associated with concerns like air pollution and extreme weather events. For more information on how climate changes health and how the university is working towards meeting UC sustainability goals, visit the UCSF Sustainability website.

Other sustainability initiatives, including a goal of zero waste by 2020, can be found in the UC system-wide Sustainable Practices Policy.  Thankfully, however, the University of California isn’t the only North American university determined to meet strict sustainability goals.