The university joined over 217 institutions in signing President Barack Obama’s American Campus Act on Climate pledge in support of the ongoing 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change on Nov. 19.
Other universities that signed the pledge include Brown University, Dartmouth College, Duke University and Johns Hopkins University. The pledge demonstrates the university’s solidarity with the Obama administration’s stated goal to reduce climate change through negotiations at the Paris Climate Change Conference. The conference, which began Nov. 30, aims to establish an international legal agreement on environmental issues.
“As institutions of higher education, we applaud the progress already made to promote clean energy and climate action as we seek a comprehensive, ambitious agreement at the upcoming United Nations Climate Negotiations in Paris,” the pledge reads. “Today our school pledges to accelerate the transition to low-carbon energy while enhancing sustainable and resilient practices across our campus.”
The university added four points to the foundation of the pledge to specify its own actions on climate change. It promised to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2020, offer educational opportunities for students interested in the environment, research climate change issues and continue dialogue related to the environment.
“In keeping with Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage, our core mission of creating knowledge and our commitment to justice and common good, we are addressing critical sustainability challenges through our academic mission, our physical footprint and our financial operations,” the pledge reads. “We recognize the urgent need to act now to avoid irreversible costs to our global community.”
Audrey Stewart, director of Georgetown’s office of sustainability, said that the climate pledge is an affirmation of a commitment to combating climate change from both the university and its peer institutions.
“The strong show of support on this issue from college campuses demonstrates that higher education is playing an important leadership role in finding global solutions to the critical issue of climate,” Stewart wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The pledge is a continuation and reaffirmation of GU’s existing and ongoing work to address climate change in our research and teaching, our engagement activities and our operational practices.”
Director of the Georgetown Center for the Environment Edward Barrows expressed satisfaction with the university’s decision to sign the pledge. Barrows noted that, despite the approach of exam season, students should still ensure that they do their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s wonderful that GU signed the American Campus Act on Climate Pledge,” Barrows wrote in an email to The Hoya. “GU people are very busy, but it would well worth our time if we all united in this endeavor for the future of … biodiversity and, in turn, our own society and health.”
Barrows added that while adhering to the mission of the pledge is a good starting point, members of the university community should still take further action in preventing climate change.
“All GU people should know about the pledge,” Barrows wrote. “Each can help to reduce our climate crisis, including using renewable energy, reusing and recycling [and] reducing heating and cooling.”
Barrows mentioned the danger that global warming presents to the planet, pointing to education on climate change as key in helping citizens understand the severity of this threat.
“People should change many of their habits if we are going to reduce our extreme output of greenhouse gas pollutants. Global warming is the worst crisis we are facing,” Barrows wrote. “There is so much we should all learn about our climate crisis.”
Zachary Larkin (SFS ’18) treasurer of EcoAction, which seeks to promote environmental conservation through education and advocacy, encouraged members of the Georgetown community to become more actively involved in campus environmental groups so that the goals of the pledge can be fulfilled.
“EcoAction is happy about this development and we certainly think it’s a step in the right direction,” Larkin said. “EcoAction hopes we can work with [the community] in the near future to help Georgetown achieve its climate change-related goals.”
Efforts spearheaded by Georgetown University Fossil Free to create a student-wide referendum on divestment were rejected by the Georgetown University Student Association on Nov. 22. The referendum, which aimed to enable students to vote on university divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies, would have been placed on the GUSA executive ballot in February.
GUFF member Chloe Lazarus (COL ’16) said the group supports the university’s participation in the pledge but believes further action should still be taken, particularly in terms of divestment.
“GU Fossil Free is pleased to see Georgetown supporting action to combat climate change though we feel it is hypocritical that the university continues to profit off of systems that perpetuate climate change, namely fossil fuel companies,” Lazarus wrote in an email to The Hoya. “If Georgetown is committed to international climate action, it must begin by divesting itself from fossil fuel companies.”
In other efforts to address environmental issues, the university’s goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions in half from its 2006 level was met at the beginning of the 2014 fiscal year. It has also reduced its carbon footprint by 17 percent since 2005 and diverts over 90 percent of its waste from landfills each year.
In 2012, the university signed then Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray’s College and University Sustainability Pledge with eight other D.C. universities to establish concrete sustainability plans.
Additionally, the university hosts the Georgetown Climate Center, which seeks to enact policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It has also established the Georgetown University Energy Prize, which will reward a community with $5 million in 2017 for sustainable innovations.
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