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University Aims to be Fossil Fuel-Free by 2050

University President Drew G. Faust
University President Drew G. Faust By Leah S. Yared
By Kristine E. Guillaume and Jamie D. Halper, Crimson Staff Writers

UPDATED: January 5, 2018 at 9:12 p.m.

Harvard plans to become fossil fuel-free by 2050, University President Drew G. Faust announced in an email sent to University affiliates Tuesday.

“Harvard will seek to become fossil fuel free by 2050 by meeting our energy needs with sustainable sources and by setting targets for purchasing externally-provided services that rely as little as possible on fossil fuels,” Faust wrote in the email.

Faust also detailed an interim goal: Harvard hopes to become fossil fuel-neutral by 2026. The University previously set a 10-year climate goal in 2006 and succeeded in 2016 in meeting its targets to reduce on-campus greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent while growing its square-footage by 12 percent.

As it seeks to become fossil fuel-free, the University will follow a new “Climate Action Plan,” formulated based on the recommendations of the Climate Change Task Force and sent as an attachment to Faust’s email. Faust established the task force in 2008 to study how to reduce the University’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Faust wrote that what she called the “ambitious climate goals” set by the University come in response to the threat climate change poses to humanity and the planet.

“We have continued to witness the detrimental effects of climate change here in the United States and around the world,” Faust wrote. “We have also seen an elevation of baseless skepticism of science—of the facts it generates and the value it produces—in our public discourse, and in research essential to human progress has come under assault.”

Faust also wrote that scientific research into the various implications of climate change drove the University’s dedication to fossil-fuel reduction. The action plan attached to her email included findings from Harvard School of Public Health researchers that asserted fossil fuel emissions can produce a variety of medical consequences in addition to environmental ones.

The plan also includes proposals for continued student and faculty research into climate issues using Harvard’s campus as a “living lab.” Since 2014, the University’s Climate Change Solutions Fund has contributed nearly $4 million to more than 30 climate research projects across a variety of disciplines, according to a press release attached to Faust’s email Tuesday.

In her letter, Faust wrote that one of the key steps toward implementing the Climate Action Plan involves appointing a new Sustainability Executive Committee. The committee will consist of faculty, administrators, and students tasked with reducing fossil fuel emissions.

The plan also charges Executive Vice President Katie N. Lapp and Vice President for Campus Services Meredith L. Weenick with overseeing a “strategic planning process to reduce the University’s reliance on fossil fuels” in areas like transportation, district energy supply, and capital planning. The University will also convene working groups to form recommendations on the adoption of on-campus cost-effective energy-efficiency and emissions-reduction opportunities.

The University plans to work collaboratively with the cities of Boston and Cambridge to reach its climate goals. Both cities have set benchmarks for reaching carbon-neutrality by 2050. This collaboration will be particularly necessary to achieve the University’s goal of its district energy system operating without fossil fuels, Faust wrote.

Neither Faust’s email nor the action plan discussed the University’s stance on fossil fuel investments. Student activists have repeatedly called on the University to divest from fossil fuels over the past few years. Divest Harvard, a student activist group, blockaded University Hall in March to demand a “moratorium” on Harvard investments in the coal industry.

Divest Harvard did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday about Harvard’s new fossil fuel-free plan.

—Staff writer Kristine E. Guillaume can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @krisguillaume.

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jamiedhalper.

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