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New climate action plan calls for $141M investment

Greenlighting tomorrow

portrait of Anthony Janetos
Anthony Janetos
Professor of Earth and Environment at the College of Arts & Sciences

Scientists agree that curbing energy consumption is key to mitigating the effects of climate change. That’s why the Boston University Board of Trustees last year rolled out an aggressive plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions and fund broad infrastructure improvements—to the tune of $141 million over 10 years.

The centerpiece of the Climate Action Plan seeks to negate BU’s carbon emissions by 2040, a decade ahead of a plan to achieve the same goal by the City of Boston. BU’s direct emissions include pollution from the fuel we burn to heat and cool our facilities, electricity and steam we purchase, and the exhaust from our vehicle fleet.

This fall, the University announced it would purchase 15 years of wind power from a South Dakota wind farm starting in 2020, following the Climate Action Plan’s recommendation that electrical power be derived from renewable sources such as wind and solar sources. Many of the plan’s recommended capital improvements involve updating heating and cooling systems to make them more energy efficient. These changes would reduce the University’s electrical demand and could boost efficiency by 31 percent. Also on tap: moving mechanical equipment away from basements and first floors to make our buildings more resilient to floods.

The new plan is the result of a yearlong analysis by an 18-member group of faculty, staff, and students charged with creating a strategy to address the threats caused by extreme weather patterns. Climate Action Plan Task Force Chair Anthony Janetos, a professor and chair of the Department of Earth & Environment and chair of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future, says the timing is right to switch to renewable resources. Increasing competition has brought down market prices. “This is a sweet spot that we’re in,” he says, “and we’re positioned to take advantage of it.”

The Climate Action Plan also offers a road map for the creation of an academic Initiative on Climate Change & Sustainability, which will study ways to expand research opportunities on climate change and see the University become a laboratory for measurement and experimentation. Climate and sustainability issues will be woven into our broader curriculum so that every BU student has, according to the plan, “been touched in their educational program by exposure to some aspect of these issues.”

Cities on the front line

In June 2018, BU hosted the International Mayors Climate Summit, a daylong series of workshops on ways communities, particularly urban ones, can team up to combat climate change.

John Kerry helped negotiate the 2015 Paris Climate Accord while serving as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

John Kerry helped negotiate the 2015 Paris Climate Accord while serving as Secretary of State under President Barack Obama.

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh brought together some 150 participants, including two dozen fellow mayors, after learning that the US State Department would not sponsor the summit, although the White House had endorsed similar summits in 2015 and 2016. American mayors came to the summit from as far away as Honolulu, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, and Houston. A half dozen hailed from France, Canada, England, and China. Former Secretary of State John Kerry (Hon.’05), who helped negotiate the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, also took part in the conference. He lauded efforts by US mayors, businesses, and states—almost 40 of which have legislated required or voluntary use of renewables. “While Donald Trump may have said he is out of Paris, the American people have stated unequivocally they are in Paris, and they’re going to meet the Paris standards.”

In his opening remarks, President Robert A. Brown said that “sustainable urban development will be key to mitigating climate change,” noting that half of the globe’s people are dwelling in cities, a percentage that will rise. “BU has an important stake in this challenge. We are at the center of the city.”