University News

Reacting to Paris backout, Paxson reaffirms University’s climate goals

12 universities sign statement aligning sustainability commitments with Paris climate accord

Monday, June 12, 2017

Following President Trump’s decision to pull the United States from the Paris climate agreement, President Christina Paxson P’19 signed a joint statement with 12 peer institutions reaffirming the University’s commitment to climate action Jun. 5.

Investment in climate change research will remain a key aspect of the University’s commitment, Paxson wrote in a community-wide email announcing the University’s signing.

“Higher education has a very distinctive role in that it is not only about what we can do on our own campuses in terms of sustainability,” said Cass Cliatt, vice president of communications, pointing to the University’s power to advance knowledge that will inform and influence policy decisions.

In line with the Paris accord’s goal to reduce carbon emissions, the University has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 23 percent from 2007 levels, part of a goal to reduce emissions 42 percent by 2020, Paxson wrote. Therefore, the University must reduce emissions another 19 percent in less than three years in order to meet its goal, said Emma Bouton ’20, a board member of emPOWER, an environmental organization on campus. .

“We believe absolutely that with investment it is possible to reach the goal,” Cliatt said. “It’s an ambitious goal, and we would not have established it as a goal if we did not think it were possible.”

Changes in the University’s central heating system would assist progress in meeting the 2020 goal, according to the University’s 2016 Ninth Annual Sustainability Progress Report.  

The report suggests that the central heating system should be converted from a high temperature heating loop to a low temperature heating loop, which “requires significant investment whose financing needs to be determined” before the plan can move ahead, according to the report.

A working group to be established in the fall will address how the University’s business and investment practices can support its sustainability efforts, Paxson wrote. Made up of experts on the environment and climate change, staff members from the business, investment and administrative offices and student and alum representatives, the Task Force on Climate Change and Business and Investment Practices will produce an interim report at the end of the fall semester, The Herald previously reported.

Paxson’s statement is not the announcement of a new climate plan, but a reaffirmation of the plan already in place, Cliatt said. “We felt it was important that we not create a misperception that this (commitment) is new at Brown,” she added.

Bouton expressed concern that Paxson’s letter ignored the potential demolition of the Urban Environmental Lab, which she called “a really important environmental space.” The site of the UEL was recently approved for the University’s new performing arts center, a decision met with student backlash, The Herald previously reported.

“There have been ongoing conversations with the community” about the UEL, Cliatt said, adding that the University can maintain its commitments regarding sustainability despite any potential decision regarding the UEL. “A decision regarding the UEL does not diminish our commitment,” she said.

“While this letter is certainly important, there’s a lot more that (Paxson) could be doing. … There are certainly goals in place that the University is working towards. At the same time, they seem kind of insufficient to me,” Bouton said.