UC system joins universities worldwide, declares climate emergency

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The UC system has declared a climate emergency, joining more than 7,000 other colleges and universities worldwide that are committed to addressing the climate crisis. 

UC President Janet Napolitano and all 10 UC chancellors signed a letter outlining the steps higher education institutions will take to address the issue.

The letter, initially announced in July, describes a three-point plan for the institutions who sign it, including carbon neutrality by 2030 or 2050 at the latest, more resources for action-oriented climate change research and skills creation and increased environmental and sustainability education, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s website.  

“The University of California takes the threat of climate change seriously, as it does its responsibility to find solutions to that threat,” said Andrew Gordon, a spokesperson for the UC Office of the President, or UCOP, in an email. 

Sylvia Targ, an ASUC senator representing the environmental campus community, expanded on the importance of the UC starting to use more decisive language to discuss climate by adding a new sense of urgency to the issue. 

“We must be certain that it does not just stay in diction but is lived in action, in everything that the UC does,” Targ said, explaining that because the UC is seen as a world leader in sustainability, it needs to be “doing something with a capital ‘D,’ not just talking about it.”

Gordon also explained how the UC, including UC Berkeley, is on track to be carbon neutral by 2025, outpacing the guidelines of the three-point plan, which is “just one way the University is responding to this global crisis.”

“I am strongly supportive of the UC’s decision to declare a climate emergency,” said Varsha Sarveshwar, the ASUC external affairs vice president and UC Student Association president, in an email. Sarveshwar explained that this act, as well as others that the UC is taking, “represent meaningful steps forward for the institution on the issue of climate change.”

The UC has taken other large steps to minimize its environmental impact recently, including declaring its decision to make its $13.4 billion endowment and $70 billion pension fund “fossil-free,” divesting in fossil fuels and reinvesting in alternative energy sources. 

The announcement comes at an active time for environmental issues on campus, particularly with the climate strike happening on Sproul Plaza on Friday. The strike is a global event, taking place a few days before the 2019 United Nations Global Climate Summit is set to occur. 

The summit will focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next decade, as well as getting to net zero emissions by 2020, according to the U.N. Global Climate Summit’s website.

More than 10,000 educational institutions are expected to have signed the letter by the end of the year, when the U.N. will meet in Santiago, Chile, for another conference on climate change, according to the UC press release. 

“The science is clear,” Sarveshwar said in an email, “We only have a couple more years to bring down our carbon emissions to limit the effects of climate change, and it’s critical that large educational institutions like the UC are a part of this fight.”

Marlena Tavernier-Fine is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @MarlenaTF_DC.