PCCN co-chairs host informational session on draft recommendations

Thursday, January 21, 2021 - 3:30pm

The President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality hosted a Zoom webinar discussing the University's efforts surrounding climate change.

The President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality hosted a Zoom webinar discussing the University's efforts surrounding climate change. Buy this photo
Tess Crowley/Daily

Stephen Forrest and Jennifer Haverkamp, co-chairs of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, discussed the University of Michigan’s efforts to combat climate change and carbon neutrality in a Zoom webinar on Thursday. Adam Fisher, a University public relations employee focusing on sustainability, hosted the event, which was intended for U-M community members who were unfamiliar with the PCCN’s draft recommendations.

University President Mark Schlissel first announced the creation of the PCCN in February 2019 after significant community activism pushing the University to do more to tackle climate change. The Commission’s goals are recommending ways for the University to achieve carbon neutrality and setting a model for how other universities can also achieve carbon neutrality. 

The commission released its initial draft recommendations in mid-December 2020, asking for community input and hosting frequent panel sessions. If the University chooses to accept the recommendations, the PCCN’s report estimates the University would be able to achieve zero carbon emissions by the year 2040, a date some University community members continue to say is too late. 

Haverkamp began the event by giving a brief overview of carbon neutrality, noting that at its core, carbon neutrality is about balancing carbon emissions with absorption rates in the atmosphere. If carbon neutrality goals are not met, Haverkamp said the impacts of climate change will devastate animal habitats, and 37% of the human population will be projected to experience heat waves every other year. She said the commission is committed to its mission of creating a more sustainable and just world by setting sustainable goals to tackle carbon emissions. 

“What we accomplish here is not just limited to the University, but has a much broader effect globally and through peer institutions communities,” Haverkamp said. 

Forrest emphasized that the commission’s role is producing effective goals and recommendations and making sure those recommendations are carried out. He also talked about how the University and other institutions can learn from one another’s plans to tackle climate change. 

“If we made changes here, it doesn’t really change the global environment measurable,” Forrest said. “But if our methods that we come up with are scalable and transferable, people can learn from us, and of course, we can learn from them.” 

Forrest discussed the University’s commitment to eliminate Scope 1 emissions -- emissions through direct University sources like natural gas and transportation -- by 2040. He also discussed the University’s goal to achieve complete carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions — emissions from purchased electricity — by 2025. 

Haverkamp discussed the role of carbon offsetting — when an organization counterbalances its direct emissions by investing in or purchasing credits associated with verifiable emissions reductions or sequestration efforts somewhere else on the planet — in the interim report’s goal of offset-inclusive neutrality for Scope 1 emissions by 2025. 

“2040 is an ambitious date for us to (eliminate Scope 1 emissions entirely),” Havercamp said. “But recognizing the sense of urgency around the problem, the commission felt we should have a much earlier goal date and to achieve that goal date, some form of off-setting would be necessary.” 

In a community forum hosted by the Planet Blue Ambassador program last week, students and community members gathered to assess the effectiveness of the preliminary PCCN draft recommendations. LSA junior Lena Swirczek, a member of the Climate Action Movement, voiced concerns about the Commission’s dependency on carbon offset measures, which she said can hinder the University’s overall goal to reach carbon neutrality because they allow the University to sustain high levels of carbon output while paying someone else to reduce theirs..

“I understand that you have to transition things, but we have so many experts in our faculty, we have so much money,” Swirczek said. “There is an over-reliance on carbon offsets for a model that is supposed to be applicable to other institutions in moving our goals forward.”

The event then opened up to questions from the audience. One person asked  Forrest and Haverkamp if it was possible to simplify the complexity of the 135-page report and asked what different communities throughout the University should specifically focus on when analyzing the report. 

Forrest said every aspect of the report is important but encouraged the University community members to focus on the parts of the report that are most applicable to them. 

“Every one of the recommendations that we place is going to have a significant cultural and day-to-day impact on everyone on campus,” Forrest said. “And it’s important that every one of us take our own actions in our own lives to limit carbon.”

The event concluded with Forrest saying that  University is a continued leader in setting goals for carbon neutrality — a claim community activists have refuted — and that other universities are looking with great enthusiasm to see the University’s continued commitment to carbon neutrality. 

“They’re looking with a great deal of interest and I think enthusiasm as well at what we are proposing,” Forrest said. “They look at the University of Michigan as a model.”

Thursday’s event was one of the numerous virtual events hosted by PCCN since the release of their recommendations last month. Two other events have been hosted earlier this week for students interested in giving feedback and critiques to the commission’s draft recommendations. Students and University community members can continue to give feedback on the draft recommendations until Jan. 26 through a public comment portal

Daily Staff Reporter Julia Forrest can be reached at juforres@umich.edu.

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