Duke’s New Roadmap to Climate Neutrality

Climate Action Plan update shows Duke is on track toward 2024 goal

Duke Facilities Management Energy Manager Casey Collins speaks with members of the Duke community at Thursday's Climate Action Plan forum. Photo by Stephen Schramm.
Duke Facilities Management Energy Manager Casey Collins speaks with members of the Duke community at Thursday's Climate Action Plan forum. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

Nearly a decade after it crafted its first Climate Action Plan, Duke University has unveiled a preliminary version of an update to the document, offering clarity on how it plans to reach its goal of being carbon neutral by 2024.

It also provides a glimpse of just how far the institution has come.

“We’ve been making progress, but we also know that there are new technologies and new policies that we wanted reflected in our plan,” Duke Sustainability Director Tavey Capps said at last week’s Climate Action Plan Forum, which drew Duke students, staff and faculty to Ahmadieh Family Auditorium in Gross Hall.

Duke drafted its initial Climate Action Plan in 2009 after former Duke President Richard H. Brodhead signed the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment. The plan, among other things, pegged 2024 as the target to reach carbon neutrality through emissions reductions and carbon offsets.

Since then, Duke’s overall emissions are down 24 percent from its 2007 baseline. That’s in spite of Duke’s footprint growing by roughly 3 million square feet, meaning Duke’s emissions per square foot are down 39 percent from 2007.

The updated Climate Action Plan, a draft of which was released earlier this month, shows how Duke plans on continuing that trend.

On campus, Duke can achieve further emissions reductions through making buildings and utility infrastructure more efficient and expanding on-campus solar energy production.

Beyond campus, the plan reinforces the need for Duke to continue supporting the development of a renewable biogas market in North Carolina and advocating for state policy changes that could result in more energy options for the University.

The update also outlined a variety of strategies aimed at tackling the stubborn issue of transportation emissions, including incentivizing alternative forms of transportation, upgrading and increasing the inventory of sidewalks and bike lanes on and around campus and studying ways to both change commuting behaviors and decrease the use of air travel for Duke-related business.

According to an emissions projection included in the updated plan, should Duke be able to fully implement its plan, it will reduce or offset 84 percent of its emissions by the 2024 deadline, leaving 55,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions to cover by purchasing additional carbon offsets.

That’s an encouraging sign since the projections in the 2009 plan expected Duke to have to cover approximately 185,000  metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions by purchasing additional offsets.

“We set an ambitious goal,” Capps said. “It’s a much shorter term than many of our peers. We really wanted to push ourselves to meet that target and be an example of how you do this and think through these complex questions.”

The public is invited to read the draft of the plan and University Energy Needs Analysis that underlies the energy portion of the CAP, and offer comments and feedback until the open comment period ends on December 17.

A summary of the feedback will be released in January, and a final version of the Climate Action Plan Update will be presented in the spring.

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