Emory joins Race to Zero, Climate Leadership Network to reduce carbon emissions

By Kelundra Smith | Emory Report | Nov. 9, 2021

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President Gregory L. Fenves (center) met last month with students leaders in the Emory Climate Coalition.

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On behalf of Emory University, President Gregory L. Fenves has joined Race to Zero, a coalition of educational institutions devoted to achieving zero carbon emissions. He also signed the Second Nature Climate Leadership Network presidents’ climate leadership commitment, joining 450 other institutions that have agreed to take actionable and trackable steps toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Fenves took these actions at an Oct. 13 meeting with student leaders of the Emory Climate Coalition (ECC) to discuss the university’s sustainability initiatives. The meeting also included Ciannat Howett, associate vice president of resilience, sustainability and economic inclusion. Students initiated the meeting and brought these action items to their attention with the hope of cementing Emory as a leader in the push for sustainable campuses.

“Emory students understand that climate change is one of the most pressing challenges of our time and it’s inspiring to hear their ideas and work collaboratively to make Emory a leader in sustainability,” Fenves says. “Our latest actions will further our progress for the benefit of our campus community and the world.”

The ECC is comprised of three student groups: Emory Climate Organization (ECO), Emory Climate Analysis & Solutions Team (ECAST) and The Climate Reality Project Campus Corps: Emory University Chapter (ECRP). Student representatives from each organization attended the meeting with Fenves and Howett, including Clare McCarthy, ECRP president; Jack Miklaucic, ECAST co-president; Ben Levitt, ECRP co-founder; Eleanor Partington, ECRP co-founder; Erin Phillips, ECO and ECRP vice president; Jesus Palenzuela, ECO president; and Sydney Warner, ECAST co-president.

ECC describes itself as a coalition that works to “amplify student voices to promote greater action on the existential crisis of our generation: the climate emergency.” The ECC formed two years ago to plan the first Emory climate strike, part of a string of global protests that took place on Sept. 24, 2019. Two hundred people attended that first strike, which encouraged the group to continue its efforts.

“As environmental scientists and climate advocates, but more importantly as young people on Earth, we recognize the impact climate change will have on the lives of us and those around us,” said ECC leaders in an email regarding the meeting. “As Emory students, we believe the biggest way of individually making an impact on the climate crisis is through our collective influence as members of this institution.”

Even with many students attending classes remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this spring ECC planned a climate week, featuring a virtual rally on Earth Day. They also came back together this fall to organize another climate strike, which had more than 100 participants.

In addition to demonstrations, the individual organizations host a range of events, such as ECAST partnering with altKEY on a sustainable fashion guide, ECO participating in the Sustainable Food Fair and ECRP’s climate-themed Halloween costume contest. The whole point is to show fellow students how they can make a positive difference.

“Every ton of CO2 we can keep out of the atmosphere will play a part in mitigating the worst impacts of climate change and leaving us a habitable planet,” said members of the ECC. “Pursuing the actions that are within our collective power rather than standing idly by empowers us with a sense of hope and purpose that keeps us energized to continue the crucial fight against the climate crisis.”

In 2010, Emory released about 340,000 metric tons of CO2e — an amount that decreased 31% by 2019. Howett feels this reduction has Emory on track to meet its goal of 45% reduction from 2010 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050, goals set in alignment with United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommendations.

Over the last decade, Emory has made strides to reduce its carbon footprint, including a significant push toward renewable and solar energy. In 2020, Emory signed a solar power agreement with Cherry Street Energy to install more than 15,000 solar panels across 16 buildings on its Druid Hills campus.

Emory’s sustainability initiatives touch many areas, such as offering commute options that don’t rely on fossil fuels; supporting local growers and farmers through the Emory Farmers Market and Oxford College Organic Farm; and growing the Zero Waste Ambassadors program to spread the word about reducing waste on campus.

“The journey to net zero is going to require action from institutions and individuals and both are necessary,” said Howett. “Emory has to pursue this as doggedly as we can, but also our community members must do what they can in their homes, communities and places of worship. We all have to do our part, whether it’s as simple as composting and recycling to reduce methane gas emissions from landfills, or unplugging electronic devices when they’re not in use — all of that contributes to our goals.”

Since 2015, the university’s sustainability vision and strategic plan has been to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Students want to collaborate with administration to hopefully push up the date.

“We are eager to continue working with the university to achieve these goals and ensure that the implementation process treats the climate emergency with the urgency it deserves, centers climate justice and adequately represents the voices of students and community members,” the ECC wrote in a statement.

In addition to joining Race to Zero and signing the commitments, Fenves and Howett agreed to form a Climate Task Force, consisting of students, faculty and staff who will advise and provide feedback on the pathway to carbon neutrality. The task force is expected to start next fall.

For more information about Emory’s green initiatives, visit sustainability.emory.edu.