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Cornell's Climate Plan Aims to Cut Carbon Emissions To Zero by 2050

Cornell’s Climate Action Plan aims to cut the university’s carbon emission to zero by 2050 and it could potentially save the school hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 40 years. The plan was released today (Sept. 15, 2009).

Presented entirely online in a paperless format, the plan seeks to enhance the university’s core mission of academics, research and outreach, while cutting net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. The plan includes 19 specific actions across five key areas—green development, energy conservation, fuel mix and renewable energy, transportation, and carbon offsetting actions.

The plan fulfills the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment that Cornell President David Skorton signed in 2007, and pledges the university to a path of climate neutrality by 2050, a target year set by

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) forecasters to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to levels low enough to stabilize climate changes.

”We intentionally designed the plan to stay below global carbon reduction goals for the IPCC,” said Dan Roth, sustainability coordinator in the Office of Environmental Compliance and Sustainability. “At the same time, we’re

potentially going to be saving millions of dollars.”

The plan, developed by faculty, students and staff, with technical support from Affiliated Engineers Inc. and funding from the state energy authority, NYSERDA, was endorsed by the Cornell Board of Trustees’ Buildings and Properties Committee Sept. 10 and will act as a roadmap for future university decisions.

”It’s a plan that is well thought out based on the economic climate we’re in,” said Kyu Whang, vice president for facilities services and co-chair of the climate implementation committee with Tim Fahey, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Natural Resources. “Action items will either bear no cost or will have a positive payback to the university," he said.

Also, as part of Cornell’s land-grant mission, the plan is intended to serve as a model for climate neutrality and economic development for other institutions to act as engines that drive a greener economy, said Roth.

Actions across the plan’s five key areas include:

- Green development: A 12 percent reduction in carbon emissions will come from improved land use, more effective use of existing building space, and energy standards for new construction that limit energy use to half of industry

standard baselines.

- Energy conservation: A 16 percent reduction in emissions is possible through conserving building energy, improving energy-saving practices and upgrading Cornell’s electrical grid, partly through externally funded smart-grid research.

- Fuel mix and renewable energy: 42 percent of Cornell’s carbon savings could come from upgrading steam-turbine electric generators, using wood instead of coal for boiler fuel and converting from coal to natural gas, among other

actions. Cornell’s Combined Heat and Power Plant switch to natural gas this winter will reduce the university’s carbon footprint by 20 percent instantly.

- Transportation: Commuter travel programs, teleconferencing, reducing business travel and increasing the fuel efficiency of university-owned vehicles could reduce carbon output by 4 percent.

- Carbon offsetting actions: Cornell’s emissions could be cut by 27 percent through converting pastures to forest and better managing forest lands to increase carbon sequestering; fixing carbon through research-driven biochar; and fostering a local community market of carbon credits that could be bought and sold.

Blaine Friedlander | Newswise Science News
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