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Sustainability committee has yet to agree on climate commitment

The Miami University Sustainability Committee did not reach a consensus on whether or not Miami should sign the Presidents' Climate Leadership Commitment at their meeting on Tuesday, April 16.

The commitment, which has been signed by over 400 colleges and universities, requires each institution to develop a plan to become carbon neutral by a goal year of its choosing.

The meeting began with a review of the commitment, which had been summarized by a subcommittee headed by Director of Sustainability Adam Sizemore. This summary gave a detailed account of all aspects of the commitment as well as the changes Miami must make to attain the desired goals.

One of the main concerns for the committee is achieving carbon neutrality in "Scope 3" emissions, which include car, bus and airplane travel. Since these emissions are unavoidable, Miami would have to purchase offsets to be considered carbon neutral.

According to Terrapass, carbon offsets are credits that can be purchased to help fund projects that reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. These credits balance out an institution's carbon emissions and allow it to be considered carbon neutral.

Professor of Geography David Prytherch and Assistant Professor of Geography Jessica McCarty explained several types of offsets that could be explored by the university. They also discussed projects at other institutions, such as Duke University's partnership with Delta Airlines. To offset the carbon emitted during Duke's airline travel, the university and Delta made a joint purchase of 5,000 carbon credits.

Director of Energy Systems Doug Hammerle presented another potential obstacle to completing the commitment -- Miami's reliance on its gas-powered heating system will continue until 2051 at the earliest. This means that achieving carbon neutrality earlier than this date would require purchasing more offsets.

Despite these possible setbacks, several committee members remained supportive of Miami signing the commitment.

Molly O'Donnell, Secretary for Infrastructure and Sustainability in Associated Student Government (ASG), created a petition earlier this month encouraging Miami to sign the commitment. This student perspective was taken into account during the committee's deliberations.

Jonathan Levy, director of the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability, said that Miami has a "moral obligation" to at least attempt to fulfill the goals of the commitment.

"I recognize that [failure] is a possibility, but all this commitment is doing is saying, 'we're going to try,'" Levy said.

The meeting ended before a consensus could be reached, so more discussion will be necessary before information on the commitment is presented to University President Gregory Crawford. The committee has until June 1 to decide how to continue.

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