Harvard and MIT students decry schools’ willingness to use global carbon offsets to meet city’s proposed requirements | New

Ninety students from Harvard and MIT wrote an open letter on Wednesday calling on schools to eliminate their carbon emissions.

The letter expressed support for Cambridge’s Green New Deal bill while criticizing the two universities’ willingness to use global carbon offsets to meet proposed emissions reductions without paying compliance fees.

Cambridge is currently considering an amendment to the city’s building energy use disclosure ordinance that would require owners of large properties to reduce carbon emissions or pay $234 per metric ton of excess emissions, with the aim of achieving net zero emissions from large buildings by 2035. .

Harvard and MIT, however, are looking at a third option to meet the proposed requirement: global carbon offsets — purchased credits that fund carbon reductions elsewhere in the world.

The open letter describes the impact of the offsets as “questionable at best”, saying schools must reduce emissions in Cambridge to have a meaningful impact.

“There is a legitimate way to avoid paying the $234 fee: by eliminating your carbon emissions,” the letter reads. “Because with your billion dollar endowments, trying to cut corners is irresponsible and dangerous. And as tuition paying students, we will not accept it.

The proposal is currently being assessed by Cambridge City Council’s Ordinances Committee. If approved, the amendment will go to the full board.

At ordinance meetings in February and April, representatives from MIT and Harvard argued for language in the proposal that would allow carbon offsets to meet emissions reduction requirements.

School representatives also questioned whether the city’s power grid could support the proposed 2035 schedule.

In April, universities, along with several other Cambridge organizations, submitted proposed revisions to the November 2021 amendment calling for global carbon credits to be allowed to offset 100% of organizations’ carbon emissions under BEUDO. .

The committee did not adopt the revisions, although the wording is subject to change.

Owen O. Ebose ’25, one of the students who wrote the letter, said he opposed the use of offsets because they would allow Harvard and MIT to “maintain the status quo” while failing. solve the climate crisis locally.

“We can offset our emissions as much as we want, but to tackle the climate crisis we need to get our emissions down to zero,” Ebose said. “They’re trying to distract instead of really taking responsibility for actually reducing their emissions.”

The $234 per metric ton fee could be considered a “local carbon offset,” Ebose said. According to the amendment proposed by the Council, these funds will be devoted to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at Cambridge.

Ebose added that some global carbon offsets are “significantly cheaper” than compliance fees, however – as low as $20 per metric ton. Nonetheless, Harvard would be able to “claim reductions” in its carbon footprint under the University’s proposed revisions, the letter argues.

In an email Thursday, University spokeswoman Amy Kamosa declined to comment on the letter, but wrote that Harvard is committed to climate sustainability efforts, citing the University’s stated goals. to become fossil fuel neutral by 2026 and fossil fuel free by 2050.

Harvard failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on campus between 2016 and 2020, according to the University’s most recent data. Still, Harvard officials maintain the school is on track to meet its 2026 and 2050 goals.

According to Kamosa, the 2026 goal aims to reduce global emissions in the near future while working toward long-term reductions in emissions on campus.

Henry Lee ’68, a member of Harvard’s Presidential Committee on Sustainability, said while the offsets are “extremely controversial,” they are necessary for the university to meet its climate goals while maintaining active development on campus and expansion efforts in Allston.

“Harvard was clearly not going to be able to do that by directly reducing its own usage,” Lee said. “His campus expansion, his new projects — the emissions from those offset most of the cuts he’s made.”

Lee, who co-chaired a subcommittee examining Harvard’s fossil fuel neutrality goal, said he and other faculty members had developed guidelines for selecting offsets. The criteria include ensuring that the credits support innovative work aligned with the University’s research goals and that they generate new carbon reduction initiatives – as opposed to funding those that have already taken place, it said. -he declares. He added that the University will likely purchase offsets in accordance with these criteria in 2023 and 2024.

Owen Leddy, Ph.D. MIT candidate who signed the letter said that verifying the effectiveness of offsets is often impractical.

“One of the things that’s really difficult about global offsets is verifying that the offset actually reduces emissions significantly,” Leddy said. “Often these greenhouse gas emissions – these projects that offsets are supposed to fund – would have happened anyway without the offset being paid.”

Advisers met with representatives from Harvard and MIT in a closed meeting last Thursday. The Council Ordinance Committee is scheduled to hold a public comment session on Wednesday, during which the BEUDO amendment will be discussed.

The session was originally scheduled for May 25 but was canceled due to a lack of attendance from councillors.

Leddy said he hoped many residents would sign up to support the proposed Green New Deal legislation at Wednesday’s meeting.

“I think it’s especially important for members of the MIT and Harvard community to speak up,” Leddy said. “Right now, the MIT and Harvard administrations are a very strong voice in the ears of the city council.”

— Brandon L. Kingdollar, Crimson writer, can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @newskingdollar.

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