The Year Ahead for the ACUPCC

July 7, 2011

By Timothy P. White, Chancellor of University of California, Riverside and Co-Chair of the ACUPCC Steering Committee

(This article appears in the July, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

In February 2012, the ACUPCC will turn five years old. At this time five years ago, the initiative was an idea, just starting to build momentum. That momentum has now propelled the initial idea into one of the most important climate change initiatives in the world.

Timothy P. WhiteThe higher education sector in the US is responsible for many of the world’s most influential ideas, values, and leaders. With a critical mass of these institutions — nearly 700 strong, representing 6 million students — now making real progress towards climate neutrality, the ACUPCC is laying an important foundation in creating the clean, green economy.

Looking ahead to the next academic year, the ACUPCC Steering Committee has identified three key ideas about how to build new momentum for this critical initiative.

First, we aim to ensure that all ACUPCC institutions are fulfilling their pledge, and realizing the benefits of a proactive climate action plan. In practice, the best metric for measuring fulfillment is the reporting rate — the percentage of ACUPCC schools that are up-to-date in publicly submitting their greenhouse gas inventories, climate action plans, and progress updates. At present, 66% of the network is in good standing with their reporting. We have a goal of increasing that number to at least 80% within the next twelve months.

Second, the network has identified four important, timely topics to focus on in the coming year: (1) financing sustainability projects; (2) addressing the academic component of the Commitment; (3) evaluating higher education’s role in adapting to the impacts driven by climate disruption; and (4) engaging with our international counterparts to support our mutual goals.

And third, we plan to make a concerted effort to increase the size and diversity of the ACUPCC network. Forty-five new signatories joined the network in 2010. We would like to see one hundred new signatories join in the next twelve months, with a special focus on minority-serving and under-resourced institutions.

A common thread runs through each of these goals — they will all require proactive involvement and leadership from presidents and chancellors. Achieving climate neutrality and sustainability requires transformational change; transformational change requires persistent leadership from the top. This kind of change requires leadership from all levels of the organization, but a continuous focus from the president or chancellor is necessary to ensure it remains a top priority in the face of so many urgent, short-term concerns.

Here at the University of California, Riverside, I recently authorized appointment of a Campus Sustainability Director as I felt we did not have sufficient focus and responsibility to assure progress on our wide-ranging suite of goals and aspirations. We also hosted the EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld, where he and I planted a magnificent Magnolia tree in the center of campus. Jared represents Region 9, home to more than 48 million people in California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands, and 147 tribal nations. One year ago, UCR was selected as the only university on the West Coast to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with EPA, Region 9. This MOU offers increased opportunities for UCR students and faculty through internships, joint projects, and scientific research opportunities.

The ACUPCC is working to support this kind of leadership in a variety of ways. For example, we have convened committees made up of ACUPCC presidents and other senior leaders and experts, around the four focus areas mentioned above. You can learn more about these committees on the new web pages onfinancingadaptation, and international work.

We will be launching a Senior Fellows program, which will award fellowships to recently retired presidents, provosts, and business officers who have demonstrated sustainability leadership. Senior Fellows will focus on supporting their peers in leading sustainability efforts on their campuses, engaging more presidents in the ACUPCC, and providing thought leadership on how higher education can more effectively lead society toward a sustainable future. UC Riverside has contributed Leadership Level dues to support this work, and we believe that investment will pay dividends for our own institution and the higher education sector as a whole. I encourage my colleagues to consider doing the same.

Major events will continue to play a key role in activating the power of the ACUPCC network. Campus Sustainability Day on October 26, 2011, will be an important day for engaging more members of the campus community around sustainability — students, faculty, and staff, but also key departments that are typically not involved enough in sustainability work, such as admissions, development, and alumni affairs.

The ACUPCC will deliver two regional events in the coming year, one hosted by Bunker Hill Community College in Boston on November 3-4, 2011, and a second hosted by Arizona State University in Tempe on March 1-2, 2012. The national Climate Leadership Summit will be hosted by American University in Washington, DC, on June 21-22, 2012.

Another important part of this year’s strategy will be to engage more directly with national student groups. Students have been a major driver of the ACUPCC’s success, both in terms of encouraging so many schools to join, and in supporting their schools in living up to the requirements of the Commitment. We see tremendous potential in continuing and expanding our collaboration with youth-led efforts like the Energy Action Coalition and PowerShift.

Finally, we will be sure to spend some time celebrating the success of the ACUPCC over its first five years. To date, our institutions have publicly released over 400 climate action plans and nearly 1,300 greenhouse gas inventories. Dozens of schools are already reporting significant emissions reductions of 15%, 20%, 30%, and more. The focus on a strategic plan has opened up hundreds of opportunities for experiential education and research on ACUPCC campuses and pushed us all to really evaluate how we manage our growth and our academic offerings in fundamentally new ways.

As we celebrate and reflect on our progress to date, we will look to the future and establish goals and strategies for the next five years. With all that we have accomplished, we know we face massive challenges to eliminate our net-greenhouse gas emissions and provide the education, research, and community engagement needed to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We look forward to continuing this exciting work together and generating more positive momentum in creating a better future.

As we move forward, it is important to recognize that our cause is noble, and that we each bear responsibility to re-double our efforts – institutionally and individually – to sustain the momentum and build on the success of the first five years of ACUPCC.

With my many thanks.

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