In the time since signatories submitted the first Climate Action Plans (CAPs) in 2009, the return on investment from renewable energy and other technologies has dramatically increased, which could significantly change carbon reduction goals. So, when the new Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitments launched in 2015, we advised signatories to review and update their CAP at least every five years. As the former Implementation Liaison at Brandeis University, I personally submitted a CAP  in 2009. I was not a skilled fortune teller because it had assumptions about technological and institutional needs that have changed considerably! The Institution recently created an excellent CAP update.

As we learn more about climate change effects, CAP reviews are also needed because some regions may have increased future energy for more cooling or other scenarios. Institutions are also expanding the use of mitigation efforts that simultaneously address resilience goals, such as renewable energy connected to battery storage for microgrids. I think the review process is also a good time to include more complex risk and financial analysis into the plan and to partner with the Chief Business Officer.

While it makes business sense to revise CAPs to take advantage of cost savings, there are also other good reasons to review public plans and targets frequently.  Revising a CAP can be a chance to engage new constituents (especially students who rotate every four or so years),  introduce new projects, and remind trustees, alumni, and other community stakeholders of progress. The CAP review can be an excellent opportunity to learn from and possibly align with or new institutional strategic plans or regional or municipal plans. During the first round of CAPs, signatories were really the first institutions to strive towards carbon neutrality. In the time since, thousands of cities, companies, and regions have created innovative and comprehensive plans to address climate change.

Consider the following options when changing or revising targets:

Current near term Carbon Neutrality Date (before 2020)

  • The revised CAP should be highly detailed and provide budget estimates for mitigation efforts, as actual costs and reasonable estimates can be made for a 3-5 year period.
  • If source reductions have not met most of the emissions reduction (as is typical for near-term goals), the Carbon Offset and Renewable Energy procurement strategy will be the critical method to reach goals. Make the procurement process for determining what types of offsets and credits to purchase transparent and part of the learning process for students and community members.
  • Clarify with any project developers that the institution can claim environmental attributes of hosted renewable energy projects or carbon offsets associated with large-scale projects by the deadline. If they can not, make sure to account for purchasing those offsets or unbundled RECs through REC Arbitrage.
  • If an institution is not on target to reach neutrality in the near term, it is the best practice to change the overall date to a more realistic time frame. Campus stakeholders will value honesty and transparency about the process. When resetting timelines provide highly detailed plans to maintain credibility.

Current Carbon Neutrality Dates 2021-2050

  • Overall carbon neutrality dates should either be moved up or remain the same. However, near-term targets or sub-totals for various scopes can be adapted as needed.
  • Avoid long-term investments in technologies that might limit future carbon reduction potential (such as gas-powered CHP).
  • Work to align targets and efforts with the community or regional initiatives.

Current Carbon Neutrality Target 2051-and beyond

  • The recommendation is to move dates closer to 2050 for a significant portion of carbon impact. The reduced cost of renewables and offsets may allow for this change to be affordable. In the corporate sector, the concept of Science Based Targets has become popular. 
  • If projects such as gas-powered CHP are making long-term reductions challenging, start investigating new approaches and solutions and submit long-term ideas in the revised CAP.

Reporting & Review Deadlines

If an institution submitted a Climate Action Plan between 2009 and 2014, the revised Climate Action Plan is requested by May 1, 2019. This deadline correlates with the CAP deadline for any new Climate Commitment or Resilience Commitment signatories who signed from 2015-2016, and are now required to include resilience activities in an integrated CAP.

The Climate Action Plan report will be updated in the Second Nature Reporting Platform by January 2019. The report will include new fields for reporting resilience thresholds and some minor changes to carbon mitigation steps. These changes will allow better measurement of progress in the network towards goals. In the meantime, Climate Action Plans or targets can still be amended or created, using the current CAP report. For example see Cornell University’s reviewed Climate Action Plans for  2014, 2012, after the first 2009 submission.

Using the Reporting Platform to update a CAP Report

Institutions have two review options, to create a brand new report or amend a current report.  We recommend that an entirely new CAP report be generated if an institution’s  goals are significantly changing. For instance, a different carbon neutrality date is chosen or the size or year of the GHG baseline has also changed considerably through mergers, etc.  A new report allows for better record keeping of these changes and acknowledges the efforts of frequent planning.  If an institution wants to make small adjustments to interim milestones, mitigation actions, or share a newly formatted document, simply revise those interim targets in the current CAP report. Click the CAP plan link on the dashboard, and make any changes and upload any new documents.  To request an entirely new CAP report draft to use in the reporting platform, email reporting@secondnature.org.

I look forward to partnering with signatories to developing more CAP review resources through working groups and other venues. Please share examples and don’t hesitate to contact me for assistance or clarification with this process, as it is new and still very much in development. We are happy to give advice on how to structure a CAP revision process and support engagement with senior leaders, on campus and in the community.