A Closer Look at Reaching Carbon Neutrality

A large part of sustainability is working towards climate neutrality. But how can we attempt to produce net zero carbon emissions on a scale as large at the entire UC system? We need to outline specific goals and set intermediate goals. UC’s commitment to the Carbon Neutrality Initiative calls for all campuses to achieve climate neutrality by the year 2025, with the intermediate goal of lowering our emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. To achieve this without buying carbon attributes (purchasing the claim to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from another party to offset our own emissions), there are three main recommendations.

Counter Scope 1 emissions: UC’s co-generation plants are already carbon-efficient, but this infrastructure can be made climate neutral by substituting natural gas with biomethane. Biomethane is harvested from controlled decomposition of organic matter from wastewater treatment plants, landfills, and food processing. Indirect benefits include air and water quality improvements, organic fertilizer byproducts, and reduction of natural gas extraction.

Counter Scope 2 emissions: Procuring off-site green wholesale power will limit UC’s exposure to rising costs of utilities and cap-and-trade policies. Membership in the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA) will enable UC to develop a plan for obtaining carbon-efficient and cost-competitive electricity.

Develop deep energy efficiency: We need to expand the Statewide Energy Partnership (SEP) program, to provide more energy-efficient retrofits on our campuses and medical centers. Current projects are already expected to save ~$32 million a year, and savings can grow with even more investment in this program.

In addition to helping us become climate neutral, the recommended measures will lower our energy costs. Carbon prices in California are on the rise, as a result of California’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program. The cap-and-trade program sets a limit on the amount of carbon allowed to be emitted, and provides a market for unused carbon allowances. As the cap is lowered over time, the price of emission allowances will increase. In addition, utility companies will be required to produce 33% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, which will increase costs of grid electricity. Investment in the recommended measures (use of biomethane, hydroelectricity, and energy-efficiency program), will lower our future costs in energy.

CarbonNeut CarbonNeut2by: Linda Tong, UC Global Climate Leadership Initiative Student Fellow

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