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Rutgers Moves Toward a Climate Action Plan

Rutgers climate task force tackles solutions; committee to evaluate fossil fuels divestment

RUTGERS TODAY – Rutgers has taken the next step toward developing a climate action plan to reduce the university’s carbon footprint and to enhance the ability of Rutgers and the state of New Jersey to manage the risks of a changing climate.

The President’s Task Force on Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience this week released an interim report following six months of intensive effort by seven working groups, comprised of faculty, staff, students and other key university community members, as they work to create a climate action plan for Rutgers to be completed in mid-2021. The report follows a pre-planning report released in January that outlined an 18-month process to identify strategies Rutgers will take to help stabilize the global climate by bringing its net human-caused carbon dioxide missions to zero.

“Like COVID-19, the climate crisis creates an urgent need to reassess how we operate as a university and explore the inequities exposed by its effects,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said. “Rutgers has the expertise and values to be a national leader on climate action. I’m grateful for the work of the task force and that our community is embracing that mission.”

In addition, Rutgers announced this week it will further consider a request to divest the university’s endowment from fossil fuel assets. The Joint Committee on Investments of the Board of Governors and Board of Trustees will appoint an ad hoc committee to evaluate divesting from fossil fuel assets, which represent about 6 percent of the nearly $1.4 billion endowment portfolio. The committee will provide a recommendation for the joint committee to consider.

“As the State University of New Jersey, we have a critical role to play in helping the state navigate its way over the coming decades into a climate-positive future,” task force co-chairs Robert Kopp and Kevin Lyons said when presenting the report to Holloway. “Embracing that role wholeheartedly will allow us to serve as a global model for public and public-spirited universities in densely populated regions.”

Kopp, a 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, and Lyons, associate professor of professional practice at Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick and associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute, said since January the task force expanded its membership to include students and staff from across the university.

In February, the task force held town hall meetings across Rutgers’ campuses to solicit feedback to further develop seven topical themes the working groups were established to explore: energy and buildings; transportation; food systems; supply chain and waste management; land use and offsets; climate preparedness; and climate-positive, equitable economic development.

In March, Rutgers joined the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), an alliance of leading North American research universities that is creating a collaborative model designed to help local communities achieve climate goals, accelerate the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and nurture community climate resilience.

The seven working groups will continue to drive the task force by implementing work plans developed over the past several months. They will focus on three aims:

  • Establishing a baseline inventory of university greenhouse gas emissions, climate vulnerabilities, and ongoing climate-related activities
  • Identifying potential climate solutions for investigation
  • Assessing potential climate solutions

Next, the task force will draw upon the working groups’ analyses to develop a set of scenarios for climate action at Rutgers.

The task force will then incorporate the recommendations of the working groups, along with university community feedback, into a climate action plan for the university between March and June 2021. The recommended climate action strategies and implementation plans will then be presented to Holloway and the Board of Governors.

Former president Robert Barchi announced the creation of the task force in September 2019 with the goal of developing a comprehensive climate action plan that identifies pathways to achieving carbon neutrality and ways to reduce university vulnerability to climate impacts.

A leader in climate change research and engagement, Rutgers University is among the top four Big Ten schools in research activity in earth, ocean, and atmospheric sciences, according to the National Science Foundation. Rutgers has already taken substantial steps to reduce its carbon emissions intensity, including building the nation’s largest campus solar facility in 2013, with all new facilities constructed to LEED Silver performance standards. The Rutgers Physical Master Plan, released in 2015, highlights environmental sustainability as a key objective.

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.

Daniel GilkesonDaniel Gilkeson
I’m a second-year master’s student in the City and Regional Planning Program with a concentration in environmental planning. As a planner, I hope to build more resilient communities in the face of increased risk due to climate change. With the Climate Change Resource Center, I am working on a project to aid the state in an update of its floodplain buyout program, known as Blue Acres, to be more proactive and comprehensive. Prior to this position, I interned in the Community and Economic Development Office at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Association. I’m also an AmeriCorps alum, having completed a year of service working on affordable housing in Nashville, Tennessee.

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.

Justin MorrisJustin Morris
Justin is a master’s student at Rutgers University studying discovery informatics and data sciences. He is working under Professor Mark Rodgers to develop an optimization model that will act as a decision support tool for university financial investments with the end goal of eliminating Rutgers’ scope 2 emissions. He is excited to apply his background in data analytics and mathematical programming to help the university fight climate change.

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.

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