Thursday morning, the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality released its second interim report, summarizing the research and analysis tasked to a number of specialized teams in the second phase of its work. University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel launched the commission in February 2019 to create a plan for the University to become carbon-neutral.  

“The goal of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN) is to contribute to a more sustainable and just world by creating approaches and solutions regarding U-M carbon emissions that are environmentally sustainable, involve the regional community, and can be scaled and replicated beyond U-M,” the report says.

After the planning stage, internal and external teams consisting of faculty, staff, students and consulting firms analyzed emissions associated with University-sponsored travel and formulated new building codes aimed at reducing carbon emissions. These would assist the University in identifying areas to reduce its carbon footprint, according to the report. The report also featured the teams’ proposals of potential pathways for the University to pursue in its efforts toward carbon neutrality.

“Phase Two work, which took place from November 2019 through June 2020, involved a range of technical analyses to inform the Commission’s recommendations,” the report reads. “This shared knowledge informed feedback to the analysis teams and will continue to be helpful when deliberations take place during the PCCN’s third and final phase.”

One PCCN team specialized in bio sequestration, or the “natural ability of living organisms to capture carbon.” They analyzed the University’s landholdings, such as the Biological Station and Matthaei Botanical Gardens, with the purpose of evaluating possible land-use changes to maximize the potential of bio sequestration. The team also considered methods to familiarize the University community with bio sequestration.

“Small scale projects were explored as a potential way to bring the likely unfamiliar ideas of bio sequestration to U-M’s three campuses in a more tangible and visible way,” the report reads.

Another team focused on emissions associated with commuting to the University’s campuses explored parking policies and public transit options in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint, as well the potential for more affordable on-campus housing to reduce emissions associated with commuting. The team engaged with the University community directly to inform its recommendations with a grasp of the current state of transportation on the University’s campuses.

“The work was informed by engagement with a variety of external and internal stakeholders to understand the existing policies surrounding transportation and commuting through town halls on the U- M Ann Arbor campus, and on the U-M Dearborn campus,” the report reads. “Unfortunately, a planned town hall at U-M Flint had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. A survey was distributed to U-M community members across all three campuses to inform their recommendations.”

The COVID-19 crisis had various impacts on the commission, after the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in the U.S. a little over two months into the commission’s second phase. The report identified several canceled public engagements amid the COVID-19 crisis. The report also highlighted digital forms of engagement offered on PCCN’s website, including a comments portal which the report said received 175 submissions.

“Even as the University of Michigan (U-M) and the world confront the immediate crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change remains a critical challenge and a priority for U-M,” the report reads.

Engineering Professor Stephen Forrest and Michigan Law Professor Jennifer Haverkamp co-chair the commission. They commented on the effects of the pandemic on the commission’s timeline in an email to The Daily.

As the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted workflows across U-M, the President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality granted internal analysis teams extensions to provide enough time for them to complete their work,” Forrest and Haverkamp said. “In most cases, however, teams had finished or nearly finished their analyses around the onset of the pandemic in Michigan.”

The co-chairs also commented on challenges the commission will experience moving into its third phase of work. 

COVID-19 presents U-M with unprecedented adjustments, and the commission faces new restrictions on future travel and the use of external consultants,” Forrest and Haverkamp said. “The commission will consider how to best organize its work and consult with external experts going forward, as it progresses toward defining recommendations for U-M to achieve carbon neutrality.”

The third and final phase of the commission’s work is set to launch in July and conclude in December. The commission will draft a set of recommendations to be published for public comment before being finalized and submitted to President Schlissel. 

Daily Staff Reporter Julianna Morano can be reached at jucomora@umich.edu.

 

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