2015 was a big year for climate action. Pope Francis’ encyclical made a call to Catholics and other religious leaders to take action on climate change, followed by 195 countries joining forces in Paris to sign a historic climate agreement to lower carbon emissions. According to the White House, “…more than 190 countries came together to adopt the most ambitious climate change agreement in history. The Paris Agreement establishes a long term, durable global framework to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. For the first time, all countries commit to putting forward successive and ambitious, nationally determined climate targets and reporting on their progress towards them using a rigorous, standardized process of review.”
A key message missing from the mainstream press was the important role the educational and health care sectors played in its success. Here are four ways the University of California and the health care sector got involved:
UC Brought Bending the Curve to Paris
Through the University of California (UC) Carbon Neutrality Initiative, UC is committed to making all buildings and vehicles associated with its 10 campuses carbon neutral by 2025. At the UC Carbon and Climate Neutrality Summit at UC San Diego in November, UC went deeper with its commitment to fight climate change, releasing, Bending the Curve, a new plan that outlines 10 solutions that can be scaled to help slow global warming. University president Janet Napolitano vowed to turn the system’s 10 campuses into a living laboratory for solutions that can be scaled up to state, national and global levels. The report, which includes input from over 50 scholars and practitioners from across the UC system, was presented at the global climate summit (COP21) in Paris.
Bringing Together Groups that Can Finance the Change we Need
In Paris, UC announced that it has joined the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, an influential group of investors led by Bill Gates committed to investing in technology that can help solve the urgent energy and climate challenges facing the planet. UC is the sole institutional investor among the 28 coalition members from 10 countries. “We can’t ask for a better partner than the University of California Office of the President and the Office of the Chief Investment Officer to help accomplish the Breakthrough Energy Coalition’s ambitious goal,” Gates said. “The UC system – with its world leading campuses and labs – produces the kinds of groundbreaking technologies that will help define a global energy future that is cheaper, more reliable, and does not contribute to climate change.”
In addition to committing to the coalition’s statement of investment principles, UC and its Office of the Chief Investment Officer will serve in a leadership role with other endowments and pension funds to explore how they can productively participate in these early-stage investments. UC has committed to profitably invest at least $1 billion of its endowment and pension funds over the next five years in solutions to global climate change, as part of the White House’s Clean Energy Investment Initiative.
Campuses Act on Climate
On November 19th, 2015, the White House launched American Campuses Act on Climate (ACAC) initiative to amplify the voice of the higher-education community in support of a strong international climate agreement in the United Nations COP21 climate negotiations. The launch included a White House roundtable with campus and business leaders, including school presidents and students, to highlight best practices to promote sustainability and address climate change on college campuses. UCSF joined over 300 colleges and universities representing over 4 million students in a unified commitment to combat climate change by joining the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge. The pledge seeks to amplify the voice of the higher education community across the U.S.
In addition, as a signatory in one of Second Nature’s three Climate Leadership Commitments, the University of California system is part of a robust network of over 600 college and university presidents and chancellors who have committed their institutions to take bold and catalytic climate actions.
A Prescription for a Healthy Planet
In the lead-up to and during the Paris negotiations Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) played a leadership role, working with allies and partners around the world to mobilize health care to address climate change. Gary Cohen, President, Health Care Without Harm said of the agreement, “The Paris climate agreement is a prescription for a healthy planet that can address the world’s greatest public health threat. Now we will need to go on a crash renewable energy and low carbon diet that both stabilizes the climate and reduces diseases related to our addiction to fossil fuels.”
The new Paris climate treaty is a major step to move the world away from fossil fuels and toward 100% clean, renewable energy in the coming decades. The primary vehicle to mobilize healthcare for Paris and beyond on climate is the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge, which aims to bring together health care institutions from around the world who are already leading the charge on climate change, with the goal of scaling it up to a broader swath of the health care community and measuring carbon footprint reduction around the world in coming years. To date more than 8,200 hospitals and health centers in 19 countries have joined—setting targets for emissions reduction and pledging to exert leadership on climate change. UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood will be signing the commitment, consistent with the UCOP Policy on Sustainable Practices and Bending the Curve.