The ACUPCC: Reflection on Progress and Goals for the Next 5 Years

July 11, 2012

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

(This article appears in the July, 2012 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

Last month at the ACUPCC Climate Leadership Summit graciously hosted by American University, we released a special 5th anniversary report titledCELEBRATING FIVE YEARS OF CLIMATE LEADERSHIP:  The Progress & Promise of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. This report shares the tremendous progress being made by the 677 signatories that make up the ACUPCC network. Congratulations for the remarkable progress to all involved. To share a few examples:
  • In the first 5 years the entire network has reduced gross greenhouse gas emission by 25%.  By 2022, they are projected to reduce over 50% of their gross emissions.  In contrast, world emissions have been growing 3% per year over that time, except in 2010 when it was a whopping 6%.
  • More than 30% of signatories have set a target climate neutrality datewithin 20 years.
  • About 200 signatory schools are offering 10,000 sustainability-focused courses.  60 schools offer professional development to all faculty for sustainability education
  • 156 signatory schools collectively are the third largest purchasers of renewable energy credits in the US – enough green power for 14,500 American households
  • 100 schools report receiving nearly $200 million in outside support because of their sustainability efforts
  • 110 schools report saving over $100 million as a result of climate action projects.

We are proud of these results.  This is unprecedented leadership by the ACUPCC network, and I both thank and congratulate you for your efforts.

Our schools are doing what is scientifically necessary, not what is easily doable within our current mode of operation. This is especially important given the reluctance of the international community and the US Congress to act in a meaningful way. A reading of the latest scientific information (not what is generally reported in the news media) indicates that the problem is growing worse and at a faster pace than predicted. This is why we cannot rest on our laurels. The ACUPCC Steering Committee has outlined the following goals for the next 5 years to demonstrate that through this commitment we can greatly expand higher education’s leadership and jumpstart a sustainable economy. By 2017, the ACUPCC network aims to have:

  1. 1,000 signatory institutions, representing two-thirds of the nation’s total student population, actively participating in the ACUPCC with a reporting-compliance rate over 80%
  2. Substantive strategies for providing comprehensive “education for sustainability” at every ACUPCC institution (as evidenced by an explicit plan, initiative, or other activities that can quantifiably demonstrate efforts to ensure all graduates are prepared to contribute to creating a sustainable society)
  3. On average, emissions reductions of at least 40% from each institution’s baseline year

The 5-year goals are tied to the Commitment itself and include quantifiable metrics.  They are intended to be aspirational and achievable, and to be used as a tool to promote engagement and action at the scale needed to shift the system toward a thriving, low-carbon economy.  Over the next five years, the initiative aims to have the ACUPCC be a well-known part of the institutional culture at signatory schools, a valuable and respected network in the higher education sector, and a well-known initiative in the general public consciousness.  It aims to influence significant action by other sectors on climate and sustainability, and inspire robust climate and sustainability commitments in the higher education sectors of at least 25 other countries.

To achieve these goals the Steering Committee and the rest of the ACUPCC network will continue to build on the work of its topic-specific committees. Of particular note is the Financing Committee’s just-released policy brief report titled “Higher Education: Leading the Nation to a Safe and Secure Energy Future”, which explores how the federal government can develop and enhance energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives for colleges and universities. Moreover, the Academic Committee’s just released strategy document identifies leadership goals and specific objectives to be accomplished over the next five years to infuse sustainability into the educational experience of all students. The Higher Education Climate Adaptation Committee report “Higher Education’s Role in Adapting to a Changing Climate, evaluates how colleges and universities are preparing society for a changing climate through their education, research, operations, and community engagement activities. Finally the International Committee will continue to explore expanding the ACUPCC globally.

ACUPCC’s momentum is impressive, and further support of our efforts come from the Presidential Fellows program and their direct outreach to signatory presidents to assist them in fulfilling the commitment. The Presidential Fellows program is made possible by the generous contribution of ACUPCC Leadership Level dues. We are also working to develop stronger corporate partnerships. Next month’s Implementernewsletter will be the annual Corporate Sponsor issue and will include an update on the newly developed Corporate Council.

An upcoming event to help celebrate and support your implementation efforts will be the 10th Annual Campus Sustainability Day on October 24, 2012 and the ACUPCC Southeast Regional Symposium, hosted by Agnes Scott College November 8-9, 2012.

On behalf of the Steering Committee, I want to again thank all of the presidents and chancellors, as well as your implementation teams for your hard work to make the ACUPCC successfulAs a collective, we are sending a strong signal to society that climate change and other large scale unsustainable societal practices are real, that urgent action is needed.  Moreover as it has with other national challenges and needs, higher education is providing the leadership and science that informs the actions we are taking, to model sustainable behavior, and to provide the knowledge and educated graduates necessary to create a just and sustainable society.

I also remind you of the massive scope, magnitude, and urgency of the climate crisis. The continued, active leadership of presidents and chancellors is essential in ensuring that the ACUPCC remains a strategic priority for your institution, and that implementation teams have the resources and support they need to be successful.  We look forward to continuing this exciting work with you and generating more positive momentum in creating a better future for all.

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