NEW BRUNSWICK — A Rutgers University task force on Friday called for the school to conduct a greenhouse gas audit and expand its use of renewable energy, two main recommendations in the committee’s first announcement since it was established in September.
The report, developed by an interdisciplinary group of university experts, is the first step toward a formal climate action plan to reduce Rutgers’ carbon footprint and prepare it for the impacts of climate change.
“We’re moving forward to create an integrated strategy for advancing climate action at Rutgers that will also support climate-positive economic development across New Jersey,” said Robert Kopp, task force co-chair and director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.
The final action plan is expected in June 2021, with an interim report due this spring. The committee must also identify metrics to assess the university, said Kevin Lyons, task force co-chair and associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute.
“The timeline for creating a climate action plan is short because time is not on our side,” Rutgers President Robert Barchi said in a statement. “We must act quickly to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint in ways that are environmentally sustainable, fiscally responsible and scalable — and that engage the broader community.”
The university aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, in line with Gov. Phil Murphy’s Energy Master Plan goal, which sets the same deadline. It’s a less lofty goal than the 2030 target student activists pushed for last fall.
Five other Big 10 schools — Rutgers’ peers — have 2050 neutrality targets.
Eight of 14 schools in the conference have climate strategies. The earliest, at Pennsylvania State University, was developed in 2002 and reduced the university’s emissions 32 percent between 2005 and 2019.
Outside the conference, the University of Florida, University of California and Oregon State University set neutrality targets for 2025.
Whether they’re on track to meet those goals isn’t certain. Oregon State, for example, reduced emissions by 12 percent in a decade. The University of New Hampshire decreased emissions 41 percent between 2001 and 2017, but its neutrality target is 2099.
Rutgers faculty and students have long called on the university to divest its $1.3 billion endowment from oil, gas and coal corporations.
Barchi created the Rutgers task force after an on-campus climate change rally last year drew hundreds of activists pressing the university to decarbonize and divest from fossil fuels.
The University of California system last year divested from fossil fuels in the largest single move away from the corporations as universities seek to end their financial stakes in an industry whose products are linked to climate change.
Commitment to carbon neutrality was a priority that Rutgers staff emphasized during the new president selection process. Incoming Rutgers president and current Northwestern University Provost Jonathan Holloway, who will take office July 1, said Tuesday he was unprepared to answer questions about divestment but added that “universities have a responsibility to understand what science is saying.”
Rutgers has begun an early analysis of baseline emissions, according to the report. A faculty- and student-led team is starting with the New Brunswick campus, with data from Rutgers’ Newark, Camden and Biomedical and Health Sciences campuses to come later.
The team’s emissions-tracking system tracks three emissions sources: Rutgers-controlled assets, Rutgers-purchased electricity and non-Rutgers sources, such as commuters, which contribute to the university’s footprint.
The university has already sought to put a check on emissions from buildings, which account for around 40 percent of emissions, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute.
New campus buildings adhere to LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council’s certification system, said Antonio Calcado, Rutgers executive vice president for strategic planning and operations.
The university for years has “focused on developing a more sustainable approach to the way it designs, constructs and operates our buildings,” Calcado said. “This will continue to be a top priority as we move forward.”
Lyons and Kopp lead 10 other members of the task force, all science, health, engineering and public policy experts from the university.
But the authors emphasized a need for “broad community engagement,” and town halls in New Brunswick, Piscataway, Camden and Newark are scheduled for February.
Alexis Shanes is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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This story was produced in collaboration with the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub project. It was originally reported by Alexis Shanes for northjersey.com, and may be re-distributed through the Creative Commons License, with attribution.