A Path to Carbon Neutrality

When University of California President Janet Napolitano called for a UC Carbon Neutrality Summit that was held on the UC San Diego campus recently, participants were called on to address two profound questions: what steps must we take to protect the world for our children and what technologies and social changes will we need to help make this happen?

The Oct. 26-27 summit was an offshoot of the high bar set two years ago for the UC system's 10 campuses when President Napolitano committed UC to emit zero greenhouse gases from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025, something no other major university has done.

When we reach our goal—and I do mean when, not if—it will serve as a powerful example to the rest of the nation and world about what can be achieved when we combine resolute political will with sound science and innovation.

In her speech at the summit, President Napolitano correctly called reducing the world's carbon footprint "a moral imperative," adding that she was determined to turn UC campuses into a living laboratory that finds solutions that can be used for state, national and global solutions.

I was one of several UC chancellors involved in a panel discussion on the topic designed to showcase what the individual campuses have been doing to meet the 2025 target. All our campuses are engaged in the effort, and if you pay a visit to UC Davis, I am very proud of the fact that you will see some compelling and successful examples of steps taken to reduce our carbon footprint.

Waste Reduction:

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The UC Davis Renewable Energy Anaerobic Digester was open on the campus landfill. (photo credit: Gregory Urquiaga, UC Davis)

Nearly 80 percent of our campus waste is diverted from landfills and our Renewable Energy Anaerobic Biodigester, which uses technology invented by one of our own faculty researchers--Dr. Ruihong Zhang of biological and agricultural engineering--can turn up to 50 tons or organic waste a day into electricity that helps power our campus. The Biodigester is reducing UC Davis greenhouse gas emissions by 10,000 tons each year.

Energy Efficiency:

We recently flipped the switch on a new, 61-acre solar array that is the largest solar installation on any university in all of Northern America. This solar farm will generate 33 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, providing 14 percent of electricity needs for our campus. It will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 14,000 metric tons, the equivalent of removing 3,000 cars off the roadways or powering almost 2,000 American homes a year.

Our UC Davis West Village community serves as a living laboratory for technologies and practices, supplying more than 82 percent of its energy needs on-site. It was the largest zero net energy community in the nation when it came online in 2011. We are confident that with some additional managing of tenant energy use, we will soon be creating all of the project's energy needs onsite.

Also, we have installed a "smart lighting" system throughout much of our main campus and we are well on our way of meeting the target of reducing the amount of electricity used to light our campus by 60 percent from 2007 levels.

Water Conservation:

Turf conversions, low-flow fixtures and recycling water has saved our campus more than 322 million gallons of water in the past year alone.

In addition to those projects, one of the more significant breakthroughs in the fight against climate change has been our work to help establish California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard, which requires sellers of transportation fuels in California to reduce carbon emissions by 10 percent. Dan Sperling, director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies and colleagues at UC Berkeley did much of the scientific research that underpins the fuel standard, resulting in dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in our state.

When she addressed the summit, President Napolitano called on participants to "ignite powerful and much-needed strategy, dialogue, and action on carbon neutrality and climate change mitigation around the world." We did just that and UC researchers at the summit put forward "10 scalable solutions" that can also move the world toward carbon neutrality through both short and long-term actions.

California is a national leader in technologies and practices battling climate change, and the University of California has been at the heart of this leadership for some time. To succeed in the crucial fight to reverse and mitigate man-made climate change before it's too late, research universities like UC Davis and its sister campuses must continue to play an indispensable role. As you can see from the examples cited above, we already are.

Gov. Jerry Brown underscored the point in his keynote address when he said,
"I can't emphasize enough how important the contribution of the University of California is in dealing with this existential threat of climate change.

"I don't know if there is any other university in the world that has brought together its scientists, its leaders from all its different branches to focus on this very topical but very difficult challenge called climate change."

With UC helping to lead the way, I know we can continue to make crucial inroads on a fight our world cannot afford to lose.

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