President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality releases interim report detailing ongoing work towards emissions recommendations

Monday, December 2, 2019 - 6:38pm

University President Mark Schlissel speaks at the first carbon neutrality public session in April 2019.

University President Mark Schlissel speaks at the first carbon neutrality public session in April 2019. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

The University of Michigan President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality released its first interim progress report in an email to students Monday morning. The report details the commission’s progress on its goal to develop recommendations for reducing carbon emissions on campus by 2025.

In an interview with The Daily Monday, Jennifer Haverkamp, co-chair of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, discussed the contents of the report. According to Haverkamp, the document contains input from more than 90 individuals, including the commission’s members as well as faculty and students from advisory and analysis groups working with the commission.

“(The report) is reflecting the first phase of our work, which was focused on defining the challenges in reaching carbon neutrality and planning on how we address those challenges,” Haverkamp said.

Since Schlissel announced the creation of the Commission in February of this year, the commissioners have met 12 times. The Commission has held three public forums at the Ann Arbor campus to receive input from the community, and it has also created an online form for U-M community members to leave comments directed at the commission.

One key development in the Commission’s work was the formation of eight internal analysis teams to investigate different opportunities for decarbonization. The teams, composed of faculty and student research assistants from all three University of Michigan campuses, include: bio sequestration, which focuses on finding University land for carbon sequestration projects; building standards; campus culture and communication; commuting; energy consumption; external collaboration; food; and university travel for faculty, staff and students.

Beyond the internal analysis teams, the Commission has also hired Integral Group, an external firm that analyzes building energy infrastructure to enhance sustainability, to present a plan to eliminate carbon emissions from heat and power systems across all three campuses.

Though the current sustainability goals for greenhouse gas reduction only addresses scope one and scope two emissions — those generated on campus or through purchased electricity — the report states the Commission intends to also make recommendations for reducing scope three emissions that indirectly relate to the University’s operations. The University aims to reduce scope one and scope two carbon emissions to 25 percent below 2006 levels by 2025.

According to the report, the Commission is entering the second phase of its work, which will center around compiling the findings of the internal and external teams and presenting recommendations to the commission for decarbonizing the campus. This phase will continue into the spring of 2020, with the third and final phase focusing on the delivery of the report to president Schlissel by fall of 2020. 

While the report provides ample evidence of the Commission’s progress towards achieving carbon neutrality, activists on campus remain critical of the Commission.

Rackham student Sasha Bishop, an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology student and an organizer for Climate Action Movement, criticized the Commission for not acting urgently, and for a lack of transparency with the general public.

“The Commission is simply not acting with the urgency that this issue warrants,” Bishop said. “One of the major complaints coming out is that there’s really no path right now for implementing community or student input. They’re at this point not responding to any community requests to meet. They make claims of having a student advisory panel in the report, but there’s no indication that they’ve met with the student advisory panel for the last 8 months (10 months) since its formation… there’s no indication of integration or follow up of the recommendations in those public forums.”

Zaynab Elkolaly, a student at Washtenaw Technical Middle College and cofounder of Washtenaw Climate Strike, took issue with the University’s investments in fossil fuels and what she characterized as a lack of a response to the community’s input.

“The work that the commission has done so far is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough,” Elkolaly said. “With the president claiming to spearhead this initiative, the situation looks rather laughable because of the fact that the university has yet to divest from fossil fuels… I’m glad that there’s dialogue, but that’s all it is: dialogue. What I’m seeing here is community outreach and administrative strategy, not the radical change that we need to be seeing from the commission in order to truly align with the goal of fighting change.”

In an email to The Daily, Haverkamp wrote that the Commission creates transparency by publishing the co-chair summaries and reports such as this interim report. The Commission aims to release its final report to the public in order to receive comments before ultimately submitting the report to President Schlissel. Haverkamp expressed support for activists responding to the threat of climate change. 

“Activists — and indeed all interested members of the public — are encouraged to comment on the Commission’s reports and recommendations as they are developed,” Haverkamp wrote.  “Activists bring an important perspective when serving on the Commission's advisory panels, as student members of the internal analysis teams, and as members of the Commission itself.”

In an interview with The Daily, Schlissel responded to criticisms that the commission isn’t making progress in its work to combat climate change. 

“There is a misperception on the campus that because we have this commission, we’re not doing anything and we’re just waiting for it to be done,” Schlissel said. “That’s not the case. All the things that we’re doing are designed to put us in a position to get to carbon neutrality as we wait for the commission to do the analyses and give us advice… We’re always thinking about ways to diminish our energy use, increase our efficiency of running the campus, and identify places where we can start immediately to diminish our carbon footprint and to diminish its impact on the climate.”