Climate Action Plan
Cornell's award-winning plan to create a low-carbon future...
"It is imperative that Cornell continue to work across campuses, sectors, and continents to meet the needs of society. Our Climate Action Plan builds on the progress we’ve already made and prepares us to do what the future demands: strive for climate neutrality, innovate, and lead the way to a cleaner, safer, more stable world." - Cornell University President David J. Skorton
The Climate Action Plan (CAP) is Cornell’s overarching plan to move to a low-carbon future. The original CAP was developed in 2009 by Cornell faculty, students, and staff with funding from the state energy authority, NYSERDA. The plan is intended to enhance the university’s core mission of education, research, and outreach, while cutting net carbon emissions to zero. Since 2008, we have initiated broad actions to green our campus and have reduced gross emissions by nearly 32%, and by nearly 50% since 1990. These collective actions are significant steps forward and have established Cornell as a national leader among universities that have committed to carbon neutrality.
In February 2015 President Skorton officially accelerated Cornell's carbon neutrality goal to 2035 (from 2050). He acted on the advice of the CAP Acceleration Working Group (AWG) which was formed in response to resolutions by the Faculty Senate and each of the Cornell Assemblies, representing all campus constituencies. The AWG concluded that achieving carbon neutrality by 2035 is both imperative and feasible – but only with aligned priorities throughout campus. The working group’s report recommends key actions to weave energy conservation and climate literacy into the operations and culture of all the colleges and units, strengthen building energy standards for all new construction and renovations, initiate feasibility studies of deep geothermal energy for campus heating, and seek out new strategic partnerships. The report also recommends that the university continue to support regional expansion of wind, bioenergy, hydropower, and solar energy.
It's imperative. Here’s what the evidence is telling us: the climate of our planet is warming at an alarming rate and human activities are the cause. How to reverse this trend poses an immense challenge, and the imperative to change our course is here, now. As one of the world’s leading universities, Cornell University has a pivotal role to play. We have a responsibility both to reduce our contribution to climate change and to generate solutions to address the mounting impacts on our planet.
We must take action. For 150 years Cornellians have taken on the world’s issues as our direct challenges. We are committed to find new solutions to complex problems. What has kept Cornell at the forefront of the sustainability movement is our institution-wide commitment to focus our collective strengths in education, research, and public engagement toward one of humanity’s greatest challenges – climate change. We put this commitment into action every day, in ways large and small.
We're at a crossroads. We have made great progress, but to move ahead we need to change the way we do things. Early successes were achieved through projects that yielded a return on capital investment. Current economic realities, including cheap natural gas and the absence of a price penalty for carbon emissions, mean that further significant progress will be more difficult and will require making key actions institutional priorities to benefit Cornell’s academic mission and achieve carbon neutrality. Working collectively is the answer.
We can achieve our goal. Cornell’s updated Climate Action Plan prioritizes the steps toward campus climate neutrality. Academic and operational innovation are essential to our success. As we work together to create a living laboratory for climate smart behaviors, education, and research, we are engaging the Cornell community in constructive conversations about how best to move forward. These conversations involve faculty across disciplines, students across colleges, staff across campus, and university leadership. The plan incorporates input from key project leaders, as well as ideas and contributions from students, faculty, and staff. There are ways for everyone to get involved.
It takes teamwork. Cornell’s Climate Action Plan Roadmap 2014-2015 presents the comprehensive set of 62 actions endorsed by each of the ten PSCC Focus Teams, including one action being spearheaded by the Campus Sustainability Office. Actions are listed according to the focus team that is responsible for following up and tracking progress. Learn more about each action using the icons below.