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Office of Climate Action directors discuss implementing Climate Action Plan, university-wide event

The University's new Office of Climate Action aims to mitigate the effects of climate change by implementing the Climate Action Plan, which includes several measures to reduce energy usage. – Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

In September 2021, University President Jonathan Holloway announced the establishment of the Office of Climate Action, which will focus on implementing the Climate Action Plan in order to combat the effects of the climate crisis.

Angela Oberg, the associate director of the Office of Climate Action, said that the office was created to lead the University’s actions in regard to mitigating the effects of climate change.

“The Office of Climate Action was established to lead the development of implementation plans for university climate action, create the systems to hold Rutgers accountable for its progress and develop a permanent Office of Climate Action at Rutgers,” she said.

She added that this office is specifically focused on climate action, meaning the University’s actions to mitigate its own emissions and increase its own resilience and sustainability. 

This includes efforts to leverage said actions to both advance the University’s academic mission and sustainable economic development at a community, state and national level, Oberg said.

Kevin Lyons, a co-director of the Office of Climate Action, spoke about the specifics of the office’s goals, which included overseeing a regular updating of the Climate Action Plan based on progress.

Their goals also include communicating with stakeholders regarding the University’s sustainability efforts, providing accountability for the implementation of the plan and advocating for climate action at the highest levels of leadership, he said.

Oberg said that advocating for carbon neutrality is key and that by 2040, no later than Rutgers’ 275th anniversary, the University will become carbon negative.

Robert Kopp, a co-director of the Office of Climate Action, said that these goals will be addressed going forward and that the office will measure the University’s progress in reaching these goals.

He added that one of the core aspects of this progress is the formation of Climate Action groups, some of which are operational, such as energy and building design. These groups are in charge of collecting data, developing metrics and creating milestones for the University to reach its 2040 vision.

“We also are in the process of setting up a series of chancellor-level units and school-level climate action groups that are going to be focused on ensuring the integration of academics and campus life into university climate action,” Kopp said.

Both Kopp and Oberg discussed an upcoming event on May 4 that is meant to bring together University faculty, staff and students to learn about climate action and past actions as well as identify new opportunities for collaboration within the community. 

The event will also include the opportunity for students to meet with the leads of Climate Action groups, with whom the office will work with to collect data that will display the University’s progress toward the action plan, they said.

Lyons said that the combination of the Climate Action Plan and the Office of Climate Action will help with the climate crisis, but it cannot be the University’s sole responsibility as other governmental agencies should contribute in order to see greater reductions in carbon emissions.

Kopp said that the planet has already experienced irreversible damage due to climate change, as Earth has warmed by more than 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 18th century.

"As a consequence, we have more intense heat waves, we have more intense flooding, we have more extensive flooding, we have more prolonged and intense droughts, these are already effectively irreversible harms,” he said. “We’re not going to reverse that 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming unless at some point in the future we are pulling more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than we are putting in.”

Oberg said that in order to meet the goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, the University will have to act quickly. 

She said that since the plan’s completion, the University has expanded its use of solar power and is in the process of enacting energy reduction projects for approximately 100 buildings.

Though it would be beneficial to speed up the action plan’s timeline, barriers are primarily financial but could be offset with savings from energy reductions, Lyons said.

Oberg said she is proud of how the community has come together and supported the process of developing the plan and that the office will continue to look for ways to accelerate their progress toward climate goals.

“Some of our staff and faculty (and students who have become staff and faculty) have been participating in Rutgers climate action for over three decades. I have been participating with Rutgers climate action since 1988,” Lyons said. “There are many of us who really want to see Rutgers do its part to reduce our climate impacts.” 

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct information surrounding when the Office of Climate Action was established.

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