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CLIMATE ACTION

Rutgers Advances Work on Climate Action Plan

President’s task force outlines key first steps toward carbon neutrality, climate resilience

RUTGERS TODAY – Rutgers University has taken an important step to develop a Climate Action Plan that will reduce the university’s carbon footprint and its vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.

The President’s Task Force on Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience presented a 43-page report to President Robert Barchi outlining an 18-month process to identify the strategies Rutgers will take to help stabilize the global climate by bringing the net human-caused carbon dioxide emissions to zero.

“Rutgers has been taking steps to reduce our carbon emissions for several years. Now we’re moving forward to create an integrated strategy for advancing climate action at Rutgers that will also support climate-positive economic development across New Jersey,” said Robert Kopp, task force co-chair and professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at the School of Arts and Sciences and director of the Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.

In the task force pre-planning report, Kopp and co-chair Kevin Lyons, associate professor of professional practice at Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick and associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute, along with 10 other science, health, engineering and public policy experts from across the university, lay out a comprehensive plan with an expanded task force, including students and staff, that will seek broad community engagement.

Key first steps will be to conduct an energy greenhouse gas audit of the university and set up procedures for reporting emissions, advance efforts to make the university budget and finance process more environmentally responsible, and expand the university’s purchase of renewable energy.

The task force will work closely with Executive Vice President for Strategic Planning and Operations and Chief Operating Officer Antonio Calcado and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Barbara Lee and present the university with a second report in the spring. A final climate action plan is scheduled to be completed by June 2021. The university also has created a Rutgers Climate Task Force website for information, progress reports and ongoing community input.

“Rutgers is already on the cutting edge of community-engaged climate research and engagement,” Lyons said. “What we will do now is identify an ambitious, yet achievable strategy, the timeframe needed to achieve our goals and identify the metrics that will be used to assess the university’s vulnerabilities.”

Rutgers is among the top four of the Big Ten schools in research activity in earth, ocean and atmospheric science, according to the National Science Foundation. The university has constructed what was, at the time of its completion in 2013, the largest campus solar power facility in the nation. New buildings at Rutgers adhere to the equivalent of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designs (LEED) Silver performance standards, one of the most popular sustainable building certificate programs in the world.

“At Rutgers, a very active building program has been underway for a number of years that has focused on developing a more sustainable approach to the way it designs, constructs and operates our buildings,” Calcado said. “This will continue to be a top priority as we move forward.”

Rutgers faculty and staff are also key players in climate change adaptation research and practice, as well as in the science and engineering of offshore wind energy, another key climate priority in New Jersey. The task force also plans to create an updated university inventory of climate research and teaching.

Rutgers is developing its Climate Action Plan in a statewide policy context that includes a commitment to achieve 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050 and active efforts to advance climate resilience. The task force’s pre-planning report looks at other universities to identify best practices for developing a climate strategy for Rutgers.

Barchi announced the creation of the Task Force on Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience in September, charging it with finding solutions to develop a climate change action plan that defines carbon neutrality in the context of the university community and outline the steps needed to achieve this goal.

“The timeline for creating a Climate Action Plan is short because time is not on our side,” Barchi said.  “We must act quickly to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint in ways that are environmentally sustainable, fiscally responsible and scalable—and that engage the broader community.”

Meet the Climate Corps

Angel Alguera, Rutgers Climate CorpsAngel Alguera
I am a first-year Atmospheric Science master’s degree student in the Department of Environmental Sciences, and my work focuses on meteorology and applications of climate change resiliency. My professional interests include severe weather forecasting and community preparedness regarding weather-related disasters. I work with Dr. James Shope at the NJ Climate Change Resource Center to produce applied research and reports relevant to New Jersey stakeholders. I currently assist with climate change data analysis, large dataset management, and report writing.

Benjamin GoldbergBenjamin Goldberg
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in climate adaptation and resiliency planning, with experience in sustainable food systems. I joined the Climate Corps last summer to help develop a GIS-based food waste recovery tool, and currently support community resilience through flood vulnerability analysis. I hold a B.A. from Middlebury College and a Certificate in Ecological Horticulture from UC Santa Cruz.

Surya Jacob, Rutgers Climate CorpsSurya Jacob
I am a graduate student in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School concentrating in community development, focused on housing, land and finance, as well as pursuing the Real Estate Development/Redevelopment Certification. Prior to Bloustein, I worked as an architect and interior designer in India and Canada and am pivoting towards a career in urban planning to engage in extensive projects at the macro level. My interests include affordable and mixed income housing, urban redevelopment, and housing finance, and I am deeply passionate about climate resilience in community planning. Being part of Climate Corps is a foundational step towards helping to solve equity issues in vulnerable communities along the coastal region.

Vineesh Das Kodakkandathil, RutgersVineesh Das Kodakkandathil
I am an urban planner with five years of professional experience in community-led ecotourism development and land use and environment management planning in ecologically sensitive areas. I have worked on and conducted extensive environmental sensitivity analyses, flood and landslide vulnerability assessments, and human impact assessments with the help of GIS tools. I’m currently pursuing my master’s in City and Regional Planning at Bloustein School with a concentration in Transport Planning and GIS.

Douglas LeungDouglas Leung
I am working with the Climate Change Resource Center to identify vulnerable communities and places affected by climate-induced flooding in coastal New Jersey municipalities. I am a Master of City and Regional Planning candidate at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. As a planner, I want to develop strategies and solve problems affecting our cities and communities that enable more equitable outcomes in housing and transportation. I am also a recent Army veteran, having served as a company commander of recruiting in the northern suburbs of Chicago and as a reconnaissance platoon leader in the 10th Mountain Division. For fun, I enjoy weightlifting, running, reading fiction, and board games.

Nihar MhatreNihar Mhatre
I am a master’s candidate in city and regional planning at Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, focusing on urban design and land use planning. Before being accepted at Rutgers, I worked as an architect at JD Studio and had my own architectural practice, Vastu Insights. My research interests revolve around designing and developing climate change adaptation and resilience strategies to promote equity in urban landscapes. Having the opportunity to work on real-world projects through Climate Corps will be an essential step in the development of my understanding of addressing climate change issues in vulnerable regions.

Josephine O'GradyJosephine O’Grady
I am a first-year student in the Master of Public Policy program. Through the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience (C2R2) certification, I am focusing a significant portion of my graduate coursework on topics including coastal geomorphology, environmental justice, and hazard mitigation planning. Before beginning my studies at the Bloustein School, I received my bachelor’s degree in public health from Kean University, where I first became interested in how coastal dynamics shape lived experiences. I previously served as an intern at the New Jersey State Policy Lab and currently work for the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.

Jessica Parineet Jessica Parineet
I am a first-year Master of Public Policy student at the Bloustein School with a strong interest in climate change policy and related topics. In my previous work, I gained experience in a number of dimensions of climate change issues through carbon capture storage research, urban heat island research, and community level engagement as I am currently on the Student Advisory Board for the Rutgers Office of Climate Action. I am excited to expand on my interests in environmental justice and local level resilience planning through my involvement in the Climate Corps.

Dillon Patel Dillan Patel
I am a second-year Master of City and Regional Planning student concentrating in Environmental Planning and International Development. I have previously worked as an economist performing cost-benefit analysis and conducting monitoring and evaluation for renewable energy in developing countries. I have also spent a summer in western Massachusetts mapping stormwater infrastructure and working with planners to identify suitable places for green stormwater infrastructure.

Moira Sweeder, Rutgers Climate CorpsMoira Sweeder
I am a graduate student enrolled in the Master of City and Regional Planning program at the Bloustein School. My concentration is environmental planning with a focus on coastal resilience. Before pursuing my master’s degree at Rutgers, I studied sustainability at Stockton University. During this time, I interned for the PSEG Institute of Sustainability Studies, the Jacques Cousteau National Estuary Research Reserve, and NJ Audubon. I am thrilled to now be a part of the Climate Corps, researching coastal resilience as a part of the Megalopolitan Coastal Transformation Hub (MACH) team.