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University Of Louisville Falls Behind On Climate Change Goals

Courtesy U of L

The planet has limited time to reduce carbon emissions in order to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but plans to reduce emissions at the University of Louisville have sputtered nearly to a halt.

Despite several years of declining carbon emissions, U of L has stopped making progress, according to the U of L Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory released Friday.

U of L's carbon emissions rose 11 percent in 2017 before stalling out last year and decreasing by just 0.3 percent.

The report notes that it's more than just growth driving the increases. Since 2016, more students are driving alone and more university business and study abroad programs are using air travel while university buildings are emitting more pollution per square foot, according to the report.

Last year however, the university emissions slightly retreated per capita, per heating/cooling days and per square foot of building space.

Report author Justin Mog said a transition in leadership and disinvestment from the climate action plan has also contributed to a decline in enthusiasm for meeting climate goals.

"This is a place where we learn how to become good global citizens and to study solutions for the future," Mog said. "If we're undermining everybody's common future by our operations then why are we here, what good are we doing?"

Overall, U of L has reduced net carbon emissions 13 percent from 2008 to 2018, but remains off-track to meet a milestone of 20 percent emissions reductions by 2020, according to the report.

Nearly half of the university’s emissions come from the electricity the university purchases, while slightly more than 20 percent comes from on-campus sources including coal burned at the shared Louisville Metro Steam and Chilled Water Plant, which is used at the downtown hospital and medical center, according to the report.

Mog said a $50 million investment in energy efficiency measures have dramatically reduced the school's carbon footprint and expenditures, but further investment is necessary to continue to meet the 2020 goal.

"This is all about holding ourselves accountable," Mog said. "You can always kick the can down the road and with climate change that is extremely dangerous."

The university cut funding for the climate action plan during the 2017 budget year in the midst of what the Courier Journal described as a $48 million budget shortfall.

In the same year, carbon emissions rose 11 percent — about the same amount of greenhouse gases as about 4,350 cars release in one year on the road.

Last year, the university also restored a fraction of the climate action plan’s original funding, and further increased the budget this year to $45,000, Mog said. He uses that funding to hire interns and maintain current climate commitments, he said.

U of L’s Carbon Budget

Back in 2008, former U of L president James Ramsey signed onto a climate commitment with other colleges and universities with a goal of making the school carbon neutral —  that means reducing carbon emissions as much as possible and using offsets (like planting trees) to make up for what’s left.

U of L established its climate action plan in 2010. It’s currently undergoing revision, but is shooting for carbon neutrality by 2050, which is in line with the goals laid out by hundreds of scientists in the United Nation’s 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Report authors estimate the University Of Louisville emitted about 190,000 tons of greenhouse gases last year. That’s the equivalent emissions of 23,000 homes’ energy use over the course of a year.

Estimates from the data include some 115 buildings across three campuses as well as the behaviors of the total campus population of 30,284 students, faculty and staff.

The report recommends U of L pursue investments in a large-scale renewable energy project to save money and reduce the risk of future utility rate increases.

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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