Learning to lead: How universities are helping the world Race to Zero

By Climate Champions | June 21, 2023

The urgency of addressing climate change has elicited proactive responses from various sectors of society, and academia is no exception. Universities worldwide are at the forefront of efforts to understand, mitigate, and adapt to climate change. The University of Leeds, Cornell University, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and University College of London are among those to have made significant contributions towards setting climate targets, informing policy, and advocating for sustainable practices. These academic institutions, utilizing their expertise and influence, are accelerating the drive towards a healthier world. Their contributions range from developing climate model emulators to influence legislation, shaping renewable energy policies, and advocating for carbon-neutral commitments, to leading research on greenhouse gas emissions from shipping.

University of Leeds: Informing international net zero emission targets and national legislation through physical climate model emulators

When setting climate targets, it’s essential to understand how emission reduction targets and policies affect future levels of global warming. University of Leeds researchers have developed a physical-climate-model emulator that can replicate the outputs produced by complicated climate models. The emulator provided the underpinning evidence for international climate policy options in response to the Paris Agreement, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5°C. This evidence quantified the relationship between global temperatures and emission targets, as well as the remaining carbon budget. The report led directly to national legislation in the UK, which set net-zero target dates for the first time, and similar legislation in France and New Zealand.

Cornell University: Influencing New York State policies

Cornell University led the higher education cohort for CORE (Coalition of On-Site Renewable Users) and was instrumental in changing New York State’s view on including attributions of renewable energy projects built and owned by private companies, universities, municipalities, and other third parties toward the New York electric utility mandate to procure an annual percentage of their generation supply from renewable resources as part of the State’s 50 by 30 program (50% of electricity consumed in New York by 2030 will be from renewable resources). Cornell University and CORE argued that the proposal to take away the Renewable Energy Certificates would have a chilling effect on private investment. This shows the influence a university can have on local, national, and international policies.

Tecnológico de Monterrey

In alliance with the Monterrey Metropolitan Collaboration Initiative and Alliance for Climate Action, Tecnológico de Monterrey advocated for 16 municipalities to join the Race To Zero commitment. Currently, they have a net zero commitment by no later than 2050 and are working together with the state and municipal governments and other NGOs in the elaboration of the Nuevo Leon’s and Monterrey’s Metropolitan Area Climate Action Plan (PAC NL-ZMM).

University College of London

University College of London is the leading authority on greenhouse gas emissions from ships. It has provided critical research on the sources and amounts of emissions from maritime transport, as well as pathways for the sector’s decarbonization. Their research has been instrumental in demonstrating ‘Persuasion’ by supporting the business case for shipping stakeholders to invest in green vessels and infrastructure by using rigorous and transparent research that demonstrates financial and technical feasibility. They have used knowledge exchange to advance public awareness around the climate-related impacts of maritime transport and increase public pressure for action and encouraged governments as well as provided evidence to justify them joining calls for international policies that deliver on a quantifiable and ambitious target to reduce shipping emissions in line with IPCC science.

Universities such as the University of Leeds, Cornell University, Tecnológico de Monterrey, and University College of London are not only producing the necessary research that quantifies and explicates the implications of various climate policies, but they are also leveraging their position to influence legislation, advocate for sustainable practices, and educate the public about the urgent need for climate action. They demonstrate the importance of bridging the gap between research, policy, and practice, therefore playing a significant role in the transition towards a net zero world. As climate change continues to pose challenges to global society, the collaborative efforts and contributions of these institutions serve as an inspiring model of how academia can play a pivotal role in driving meaningful change.

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