UCSF Sustainability Stories

Lujain Al-Saleh, UCSF Sustainability Fellow, July 2017

Staying Committed to Fighting Climate Change

The day after President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, the UC Global Climate Leadership Council (GCLC) convened at UCSF to reaffirm the university of California’s unwavering commitment to confront climate change in the face of national opposition. “UC supports the efforts of the governor, California’s congressional delegation, and state legislators to ensure that California stays at the forefront of combating climate change,” said UC President Napolitano in a statement. “At UC, we will continue to work to meet our own ambitious climate targets, including our pledge to become carbon neutral in our operations by 2025,” said Napolitano.

The GCLC was formed in 2014 to advise UC on achieving its ambitious goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2025 while also providing guidance for furthering its other longstanding sustainability goals. It also provides guidance on integrating the Carbon Neutrality Initiative and other sustainability goals into UC’s teaching, research and public service mission. The timely meeting gathered GCLC faculty, staff, and student members to discuss strategies for reaching the CNI goals and advocating for climate action. Topics ranged from carbon abatement to applied research on climate and sustainability.

State of California Continues to Fight
As President Trump has actively revoked and continues to threaten environmental legislation, such as the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, the state of California and UC has made it clear that it will continue to fight against the federal government’s opposition in addressing climate change.

While the U.S. has not taken an active role in taking responsibility for the “greatest challenge of our time” , the state of California has a history of active environmental legacy that has inevitably impacted national legislation and movements.

In a recent interview with The New York Times, California Governor Brown stated that “we want to do everything we can to keep America on track, keep the world on track, and lead in all the ways California has. We’re looking to do everything we can to advance our program, regardless of whatever happens in Washington.”

And this is not the first time the state of California has faced an oppositional federal government. Similar to that of the Paris climate accord, the U.S. did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions when it was in the process of being ratified in the late 1990s.

Amplifying the Voice of Higher Education

Although the U.S. exit from the Paris climate accord is disheartening and ominous, local governments, businesses, universities, and other organizations are joining the grassroots movement towards climate action.

More than 250 colleges and universities that have signed the We Are Still open letter to declare their intent to ensure the U.S. remains a global leader in reducing carbon emissions.

On November 19th, 2015, the White House initiated American Campuses Act on Climate (ACAC) initiative “to amplify the voice of the higher-ed community in support of a strong international climate agreement in the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations in Paris.” In addition to participating in the ACAC, UC joined the Climate Leadership Network, which was formed to bring together higher education institutions that are working towards carbon neutrality, emissions reductions, and climate resilience.

Along with 600 colleges and universities from every state, UC reports its yearly progress through the Reporting Platform as it has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2025.

Despite increased student enrollment, UC has managed to reduce its system wide emissions by 15% since 2009, through energy efficiency programs and the development renewable energy sources.

To ensure that students are actively a part of this movement, the UC-CSU Knowledge Action Network (KAN) for Transformative Climate and Sustainability Education and Action was formed by UC and CSU educators “to scale and intensify California students’ literacy in climate change, climate justice, carbon neutrality/greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and sustainability.” Crossing the barriers between operations and academics is vital in effectively reaching carbon neutrality across the 10 UC campuses.

More than ever, we need to bridge together and recognize that sustainability is embedded within fields ranging from the social sciences and humanities to the natural and physical sciences.

With the current administration, the path to carbon neutrality will continue to be challenging and quite daunting. Yet, the road will not be blocked as we continue the fight in doing our part to take care of this Earth.

For more information about system wide UC sustainability initiatives, including the Carbon Neutrality Initiative, visit ucop.edu/sustainability.