University releases its new and updated Climate Action Plan

LED bulbs

Reducing global greenhouse emissions is one of the great challenges of modern times, and the University of Oregon outlined how it is continuing to do its part in its newly released and updated Climate Action Plan.  

President Michael H. Schill summarized the focus of UO’s new effort in a statement released May 10.

“The University of Oregon is proud of our achievements in environmental sustainability, but we know there is more to do,” Schill wrote. “Addressing the challenge of climate change calls for clear and thoughtful action and achieving carbon neutrality will require commitment and action at every level of the institution. We will not shy away from doing this hard work.”

Schill said that while it is a challenging time to make new commitments given the financial stresses the institution is facing, this is an important issue that requires attention.

The new plan, which updates the UO’s original 2010 Climate Action Plan, balances immediate actions that the university will take to reduce emissions with a series of wide-ranging studies that are planned or in progress. These include:

  • Long-term planning for heating campus with low-carbon energy sources.
  • Scoping the cost and effect of a campuswide retrofit of lighting to energy efficient LEDs, or light-emitting diodes.
  • Presenting alternative commute options that have lower emissions.
  • Exploring the emissions impacts of having a winter break energy “turn down” and a building temperature setting policy.
  • Surveying the UO community to find potential sources of funding for efforts to reduce emissions.

University leaders will use results from the studies to make strategic decisions about ways to lower emissions even further. The plan will be revised again in 2024 to include further actions informed by the data gathered and progress made during the current cycle.  

“The studies are the heart of the new Climate Action Plan,” said Steve Mital, UO sustainability director. “They will provide a realistic assessment of our options, their associated emissions reductions, the cost and our campus community’s willingness to pay for them.” 

An early draft of the plan was put on hold due to concerns among UO students that the proposal did not go far enough or fast enough in reducing the university’s carbon footprint. Their advocacy led to several additions, including plans for a committee composed of students, faculty members and staff to review the initiative’s progress toward its stated goals and advise the university on the creation of the next plan.

Other additions include a request that the UO Board of Trustees add an annual report on emissions management and climate action to their meetings and a commitment to expand both education and research related to climate change at the UO. 

In his statement, Schill referenced a cap-and-trade bill, HB 2020, currently working through the Oregon Legislature. The bill would reduce regulated emissions throughout the state, but in its current form the UO’s emissions would be exempt from regulation.

Should the bill become law, Schill will review the final legislation and consider volunteering the UO as a “covered entity,” which would require the university to report its emissions and respond to emissions targets set by the state.

The university’s original Climate Action Plan was adopted in 2010 and established a goal of climate neutrality by 2050 but lacked specific plans on how to achieve that goal. Nevertheless, the university managed to keep building energy use largely flat during a period of substantial growth. That success came primarily through the adoption of the Oregon Model of Sustainable Development.

The Climate Action Plan supports the greenhouse gas management component of the UO’s Comprehensive Environmental Policy, the institution’s high-level operational goals to further environmental sustainability on campus.

For more information on the Climate Action Plan, visit the Office of Sustainability’s webpage.