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Higher education gets smart about climate change

<p><span>A climate commitment database reveals colleges and universities are reporting significant reductions in emissions.<o p=""></o></span></p>

The higher education sector continues to be a leader in climate action, and through the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), more than 670 institutions are collectively taking meaningful measures to mitigate climate change. In the seventh year since the ACUPCC's formation, the network maintains its growth of signatory members and is progressively expanding its database of higher education's greenhouse gas emissions and climate action plans.

As demonstrated through the facts and figures below, there were many key achievements in the past year. In the new year, there will be more opportunities for continued successes.

Successes and achievements

As of November, 616 signatory institutions collectively submitted 1,998 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventories. There were 616 institutions that submitted at least one GHG report, and 492 institutions that submitted at least two GHG reports, with which there are datasets to analyze trends of emission within the ACUPCC network.

The institutions that submitted at least two GHG reports present the following trends on their emissions:

286 (58 percent) show a reduction totaling 2,898,816 metric tons of CO2e.

198 (40 percent) show an increase of 1,196,815 metric tons of CO2e.

8 show no change in their emissions.

The cumulative emissions reduction from these institutions is 1,702,001 metric tons of CO2e.

The following figure highlights the net emissions reduction (in metric tons of CO2e) by the 492 signatory institutions that have submitted two or more GHG reports:

This means that 42 percent of the ACUPCC network have reported that implementation activities have resulted in emissions reductions. Twenty-nine percent have reported emissions increases, and 1 percent have reported no change in their emissions. Eighteen percent of respondents that have reported on their baseline emissions, however, have not reported the progress (as they have submitted only one GHG report), and 9 percent of the signatory institutions have not reported their baseline emissions (these institutions may not have a GHG report due yet or may have missed their deadline) as of November.

Of the 286 signatory institutions that reported emissions reduction, 176 (61.5 percent) reported reduction of less than 5,000 metric tons of CO2e. Out of the 286, 1.3 percent reported reduction of more than 100,000 metric tons of CO2e.

The following figure represents further breakdown of the 286 signatory institutions that reported emission reductions:

Of the 198 signatory institutions that reported an increase in their operational emissions, 141 (71.2 percent) reported an increase of fewer than 5,000 metric tons of CO2e. Out of the 198, 1.5 percent reported an increase of more than 100,000 metric tons of CO2e.

The following figure represents further breakdown of the 198 signatory institutions that reported increase in their operational emissions:

The big picture

The trends captured in these figures show the ACUPCC's reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions, and are indicative of campus sustainability projects translating into tangible results. In time, there will be access to wider datasets, as a greater number of institutions start reporting on their progress; this will allow for a deepening of analyses and continued reporting on trends of the network.

Based on the net reduction of 1,702,001 metric tons of CO2e by the ACUPCC network, using the EPA Equivalencies Calculator, it can be said that the mitigated emissions are equivalent to:

Annual greenhouse gas emissions from 354,584 passenger vehicles, or

CO2 emissions from 190,807,287 gallons of gasoline consumed, or

CO2 emissions from 22,448 tanker trucks' worth of gasoline, or

CO2 emissions from the electricity use of 234,177 homes for one year, or

Carbon sequestered by 43,641,051 tree seedlings grown for 10 years, or

Greenhouse gas emissions avoided by recycling 637,454 tons of waste instead of sending it to the landfill.

Note: The ACUPCC is not responsible for the accuracy or validity of the data submitted by signatory institutions. The ACUPCC does not require institutions to verify GHG emissions or any other information submitted in their reports. However, it does encourage and trust institutions to submit the most accurate data available and to be transparent about their data collection processes.

University photo by AN NGUYEN via Shutterstock

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