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Sustainability committee to review student demand for carbon neutrality

A petition encouraging Miami University's administration to sign on to the Presidents' Climate Leadership Commitment, a multifaceted program that requires universities to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by a goal date, has circulated around campus the last few weeks. The University Sustainability Committee will review and discuss the commitment this morning.

Molly O'Donnell, Secretary for Infrastructure and Sustainability in Associated Student Government (ASG), created the petition on Thursday, April 5. By yesterday it had 238 signatures.

According to the World Green Building Council, a building or institution that has achieved net-zero carbon emissions is "fully powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources."

"The Presidents' Climate Leadership Commitment might be the only commitment specifically for university and college presidents about carbon neutrality," O'Donnell said. "Signing the commitment represents pursuing carbon neutrality, whereas not signing it and just setting our own goals does not."

Over 400 colleges and universities across the United States have signed the commitment, including Miami's peer institutions like Ohio University, the Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati.

According to a 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), many effects of climate change, such as the total loss of coral reefs and sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, can be delayed significantly by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius per year. Human-caused carbon emissions must reach net-zero by 2050 for this to be possible.

Director of the Office of Sustainability Adam Sizemore wrote a summary of the commitment to be shared with the Sustainability Committee that did not include support for carbon neutrality on Miami's campus, O'Donnell said.

"It is great to see Miami University students energized around, as well as communicating the issue of climate change," Sizemore wrote in an email to The Student.

Suzi Zazycki, co-chair of the Sustainability Committee, said that the committee is still in the "fact-finding stage," meaning the members are familiarizing themselves with all aspects of the commitment.

Once this stage is complete, the committee will outline the requirements for achieving the goals set forth by the commitment and present them to University President Gregory Crawford, who will then decide whether to sign on to it.

Zazycki said that O'Donnell's petition will be taken into account during the committee's discussion of the commitment.

"What the Sustainability Committee is trying to do is gather all the information on all sides," Zazycki said. "This includes the students' desire. The student's petition is a really big, important part of the story."

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Though Miami has not yet signed the commitment and therefore not set a date at which it hopes to achieve carbon neutrality, the university has set and surpassed a few sustainability goals of its own.

Miami's Sustainability Commitments & Goals (SCAG) were originally developed in 2010 under former University President David Hodge. The SCAG were later updated in 2016, and this updated version included a goal of a 30 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to the baseline year of 2008.

As of February 2019, this goal has been realized, as carbon emissions have been reduced by 44 percent, and no coal was burned in 2017.

While O'Donnell referred to Miami's progress so far as "fantastic," she stressed the importance of continuing to push forward and avoiding complacency.

"It's not enough to just pat ourselves on the back and say 'hey, we've done a great job so far; we're ahead of the pack,'" O'Donnell said. "Miami loves to refer to itself as an innovator in all fields of higher education, so why would we not continue to innovate and set a goal of carbon neutrality?"

Correction on April 16: A previous version of this article stated that over 650 colleges and universities signed the commitment. The number is actually a little over 400.