This month, U President Taylor Randall demonstrated his intent for the university to lead on climate-related solutions by re-signing the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment, a collection of hundreds of universities and colleges committed to innovation and resilience in the face of climate change.
Re-signing the commitment fulfills one of the recommendations of Randall’s Operation Bold Transition Plan, which recommends “equity-focused sustainability leadership” as a foundational strategic objective for the University of Utah.
Appropriately, Second Nature, the convener of the Presidents’ Climate Leadership Commitment, developed the program as “bold commitments” from university and college leaders with the hope that the efforts by institutions would reach far beyond campus borders. The U is a signatory to the Climate Commitment, which integrates carbon neutrality with climate resilience and a systems approach to responding to the climate crisis. It is the most comprehensive of the three commitments created by Second Nature. The commitment recognizes the role of higher education to lead in their communities and throughout society by providing the knowledge, research and practice to manage risks and create new opportunities.
“As a leading public research and flagship university, we have the responsibility to our campus community, the state we serve and society at large to commit to actions that will lead to a more sustainable future,” said Randall.
By re-signing, Randall affirms the work of the Climate Commitment Task Force, which was created in 2019 to fulfill the charges of the Climate Leadership Commitment and a 2019 Academic Senate resolution, including assessing the U’s resilience and developing the new climate action plan. The university’s last climate action plan was completed in 2010. Throughout the process, the task force will also consider the U’s 2050 carbon neutrality target.
In July, the task force completed the resilience assessment. Second Nature defines resilience as “the ability of a system or community to survive disruption and to anticipate, adapt and flourish in the face of change.” The task force evaluated climate-related vulnerabilities and strengths for the university and surrounding community across five resilience categories: social equity and governance, health and wellness, ecosystem services, infrastructure and economics. The report identified existing threats likely to be made worse by climate change, such as more severe weather and droughts. The resilience assessment also noted that climate change has a disproportionate impact on marginalized people and communities.
The assessment also explored strengths available at the university such as technical knowledge, access to nature and quality healthcare which will all help the institution prepare for and adapt to climate change. Data and analysis from the resilience assessment will set a baseline for the university as it enters the climate action planning phase next semester.
Kerry Case, chief sustainability officer for the University of Utah, notes that workforce development is one of the most critical ways for the U to enhance statewide climate resilience.
“One of the greatest contributions the University of Utah can make to the global effort to address climate change is to graduate students who are ready to help lead communities toward resilience,” said Kerry Case, chief sustainability officer at the U. “We must prepare students from all fields to engage in ways that reduce risks and strengthen outcomes.”