By Nell Gluckman and Clara Turnage
At most of the nearly 120 colleges and universities whose presidents had signed a pledge Friday to meet the goals laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement, the signatures won’t lead to a sea change. These are institutions, by and large, that have already committed to reduce their carbon footprint.
But in joining a coalition of business leaders, mayors, and governors set on helping the United States meet international targets for greenhouse-gas emissions, the institutions are attempting to send a clear message: Now that President Trump has pulled the United States out of the climate accord, we’ll fill a leadership void on a global issue.
The coalition, coordinated by the former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, is negotiating with the United Nations on how to enter the Paris agreement and report on its progress, according to The New York Times.College presidents joined the mayors of Los Angeles, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, and Pittsburgh; the governors of California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, who are creating a separate alliance of states; and the heads of Hewlett-Packard, Mars Inc., and other companies in committing to meet the guidelines for greenhouse-gas emissions outlined in the Paris accord.
As producers of research and early adopters of sustainable-energy sources, colleges and universities have long been on the frontlines of efforts to combat climate change. But the new coalition is part of a broader effort by the institutions to bring “the totality of their assets to bear,” said Robert C. Orr, dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. As the United Nations’ special adviser to the secretary-general on climate change, Mr. Orr helped draft the Paris accord, which was signed by representatives of nearly 200 nations in 2015.
Over the years, Mr. Orr said, universities have become more sophisticated in how they contribute to the global campaign against climate change. University research has moved beyond the science of global warming to assess factors like the impact of climate change on the economy. Debates about divesting from the coal industry have transformed into discussions about how university endowments can support an emerging clean-energy sector. And the work campuses have done to make themselves greener is now being replicated by big businesses that have campuses of their own.