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Climate Leadership Commitments (Proposed)

Description

The university’s history of climate commitments began with an acute focus on one significant agent of climate change: greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The vices of global climate change include extreme weather events, air pollution and respiratory ailments, food and water insecurity, land and agricultural degradation, and social injustices. In 2020, curtailing campuswide GHG emissions remains the cornerstone of our strategic plan.

On Feb. 22, 2008, Chancellor Richard Herman joined a cohort of higher education colleagues in signing the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). The document was later renamed the Second Nature Carbon Commitment due to its sponsorship by the Boston-based nonprofit Second Nature. Since 2008, we have strengthened our partnership with Second Nature in pursuit of their mission to “[accelerate] climate action in, and through, higher education.” In total, the document accrued over 600 signatories and formally solidified the university’s dedication to achieving carbon neutrality as soon as possible and no later than 2050.

The Second Nature Carbon Commitment, which underscored the importance of cultivating an environmentally conscious student body, is excerpted below:

We believe colleges and universities must exercise leadership in their communities and throughout society by modeling ways to minimize global warming emissions, and by providing the knowledge and the educated graduates to achieve climate neutrality. 

Eight years later on Feb. 9, 2016, Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson signed Second Nature’s Climate Resilience Commitment, thereby pledging to work with community partners to evaluate local vulnerabilities to climate change, specifically pertaining to natural resources, land management, and energy production. 

The Resilience Commitment and Carbon Commitment combine to form Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Commitments, for which Illinois is a Charter Signatory. In fall 2019, University of Illinois President Timothy Killeen reinforced this commitment for all three University of Illinois campuses by signing the Climate Emergency Letter as one of more than 200 Global Universities and Colleges for the Climate. 

Relationship to Other Commitments

The university’s climate commitments are made public through several initiatives in addition to those sponsored by Second Nature.

In 2011, the university joined the Billion Dollar Green Challenge launched in October of the same year. Participating organizations are challenged to invest a cumulative $1B in energy efficiency projects via self-managed revolving funds. The university’s revolving fund is managed by Facilities and Services (F&S) and originally consisted of contributions from the Office of the Chancellor, the President’s Office, and the Student Sustainability Committee (SSC). Projects funded in this manner are cost-effective and energy-efficient, and utility cost savings are reabsorbed into the fund to ensure its longevity.  

In 2012, Chancellor Phyllis Wise committed the university to become an LED Campus. Wise made this decision to honor Grainger College of Engineering alumnus and Professor Emeritus Nick Holonyak Jr., who is credited with demonstrating the first visible LED. The commitment called for a campuswide prioritization of LED lighting in addition to the following objectives: replacing interior and exterior wayfinding fixtures with LED fixtures by 2025; and converting a majority of lighting to LED by 2050. These targets remain a priority.

In January 2015, the university became an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Power Partner. The Green Power Partnership (GPP) initiative is a 19-year-old cohort with the goal to elevate voluntary adoption of green power in the United States.

In November 2015, Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson signed the White House American Campuses Act on Climate (ACAC) Pledge, reiterating Illinois’ commitment to carbon neutrality. 

The University of Illinois System President’s Guiding Principles also include an environmental sustainability component, calling for “sustainable environmental and economic improvements to the human condition.” 

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