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4 Ways That Higher Ed Leaders Can Act On the Paris Climate Agreement

By Sharon Chen
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The Paris climate agreement represents an unprecedented show of support for solving our climate challenge. The agreement aims to diminish dependency on fossil fuels, and strongly urges a reduction global temperatures by 1.5 degrees Celsius before 2100. It also puts into place an enhanced transparency system for all countries, requires countries to report on greenhouse gas inventories and mitigation progress, and establishes a technical review process with agreed-upon standards.

But there are ambiguities. Most notably, the agreement lacks a legally binding structure, and there are no disciplinary measures in place if a country fails to meet its targets.

The voluntary nature of the climate agreement is not intended to encourage non-participation; on the contrary, the Paris climate agreement is a call to action that gives countries freedom to meet targets in ways that are most suited for them. This presents an important opportunity for higher ed leaders to put the Paris agreement into practice.

Here are four ways that higher ed leaders can leverage the resources on their campuses to take advantage of the opportunities and challenges that the agreement presents.

1. Update your sustainability plans, or create a sustainability plan if you don't have one. The Paris climate agreement heavily emphasizes clean energy and a reduction in fossil fuel usage; make sure your campus is in-line with this greener, cleaner focus. In the journey to sustainability, engage the whole campus: students, faculty, food services, athletic departments, purchasing departments. We can all make a difference.

2. Transition your existing infrastructure. Install solar panels, invest in microgrids, and update buildings to be more energy efficient. These changes are more affordable, and pay for themselves, in the form of energy savings, quickly. By committing to green buildings and showing that this is achievable and efficient, higher ed can help expedite the change that is needed to create a more sustainable world.

3. Divest/invest. Universities across the nations are divesting all, or a portion of their portfolios from fossil fuel companies. There is another option: universities are increasingly choosing to invest in and support clean energy, sustainable companies as well. Using considerable university endowments and investment portfolios to support clean energy is an effective way we can show corporations (and governments) that we are serious about eliminating fossil fuels.

4. Join Solution Generation on the path to positive. Join higher education leaders from across the nation and join Solution Generation to lead by example and engage others on climate solutions. Together, we can chart a new course on climate that will lead to a healthy, safe and flourishing world for all.

By enacting these changes, higher ed leaders can better define the parameters of the Paris agreement, and lead on enacting the changes necessary for a sustainable, livable future. Together, we can ensure that the momentum from the Paris climate talks translates into real action.