Climate change is one of the great existential challenges we face in our time.
Fossil fuel combustion is the predominant source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on UC Davis campuses. GHGs emitted when fossil fuels are burned are the primary cause of climate change. The effects of climate change are being felt in shifting weather patterns, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, public health threats, changing ecosystems, and threatened wildlife populations. These effects, in turn, have serious economic and social impacts.
The University of California has committed to drastically reduce its carbon emissions by becoming carbon neutral by 2025. The University of California Carbon Neutrality Initiative, established in November 2013 by The Regents of the UC and UC President Janet Napolitano, commits all UC locations to the goal of emitting net zero greenhouse gases from buildings and vehicle fleets by 2025. The University of California is the first major research university system to set this goal. The Carbon Neutrality Initiative target has been incorporated into the UC Sustainable Practices Policy.
Many factors influence how and why we emit GHGs at UC Davis:
- Growth. To fulfill its mission and serve students, UC Davis continues to grow. To meet our UC climate protection goals, we have to implement strategies for growth and development that do not increase emissions.
- Complex operations and emissions sources. Multiple, interconnected campus systems affect greenhouse gas emissions, including infrastructure, energy, transportation. UC Davis owns and operates a wastewater treatment plant, electrical substation, central heating and cooling plant, water wells and surface water distribution, and public transit system in Davis, and a combined heat and power plant in Sacramento. Our energy contracts include multiple power suppliers.
- Campus size. UC Davis is the largest UC campus with 5,300 acres and more than 1,000 buildings in Davis and Sacramento.
- Campus activities. Faculty, research staff and students conduct a large amount of energy-intensive laboratory research and work with patients in medical and veterinary hospitals and clinics.
- Our geography. We are located in the Sacramento Valley, with cool winters and hot summers. We often focus on our hot summers. But, we have, on average, more heating degree days than cooling degree days, which means we use energy to warm our buildings to comfort temperatures, as well as to cool our buildings.
We annually report our GHG emissions in an inventory, which is a measuring of our GHG emissions that is audited by an independent verifier. We file our inventories with The Climate Registry, a non-profit North American organization. We account emissions under our operational control.
GHG emissions are commonly measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTCO2e). This metric takes into account that different greenhouse gases have different global warming potential.
GHG emissions are accounted by their “scopes,” which indicate the level of control an entity has over why those GHGs were emitted. Emissions are classified into three scopes. At UC Davis, our emissions scopes are characterized as:
- Scope 1 are direct emissions from a source owned or controlled by an organization; for UC Davis, these emissions are from our campus operations.
- Scope 2 are indirect emissions from sources that are owned or controlled by an organization; for UC Davis these are purchased utilities, primarily electricity.
- Scope 3 are emissions from sources not owned or directly controlled by the university but related to campus activities.
The graphic below shows our UC Davis emissions sources, by scope.
The UC policy goals for climate protection cover the following scopes of emissions:
- The 2020-2025 goal includes Scope 1 and 2 emissions, and Scope 3 commuting and business travel emissions.
- The 2025 carbon neutrality goal includes our Scope 1 and 2 emissions.
- The 2050 carbon neutrality goal currently includes our Scope 3 commuting and business travel emissions.
Establishing a Baseline
In the UC Davis Climate Action Plan, GHG emissions are calculated back to 1990, using hard data when available and projected data when hard data are not available. Nearly every source of emissions is included. Calculated emissions for 1990 were 142,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent with a 73 percent increase by 2000 to 246,000 MTCO2e.
The UC Policy on Sustainable Practices includes three current climate protection goals:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to year 1990 levels by 2020.
- Achieve climate neutrality for Scope 1 and 2 sources by 2025.
- Achieve climate neutrality from specific Scope 3 sources by 2050 or sooner.
A previous climate protection goal to reduce GHG emissions to 2000 levels by 2014 has been removed from the policy, because the goal is in the past, and has been surpassed by the current goal to maintain 1990 levels of emissions. UC Davis exceeded that goal, and met a stretch goal for 2014 that was set in the CAP.
The UC Policy on Sustainable Practices (SPP) calls for other de-carbonization and energy efficiency measures related to climate action:
- Energy efficiency (SPP Sections V.A.3., V.A.5., and V.B.1.)
- New construction targets (SPP Sections III.A.1., III.A.2., V.A.1., V.A.2., V.A.3., V.A.5.)
- Energy efficiency targets (SPP Sections III.B.1., V.B.1.)
- Renewable energy targets (SPP Sections III.B.2., III.B.3., III.B.4., V.B.2., V.B.3., V.B.5.)
- Carbon neutrality (SPP Section III.C.1., III.C.2., IIII.C.3, V.C.2, V.C.5.)
- Building decarbonization (SPP III.A.3. and V.A.4.)
- Decarbonization of major fossil fuel-using campus infrastructure (SPP V.C.6)
- Carbon offsets (this policy section is expected to be published online in fall 2021)
Contribution to total UC Davis 2019 GHG emissions, by location:
- Davis Campus: 57%
- Health System: 41%
- Outlying Facilities: 2%
Contribution to total UC Davis 2019 (pre-pandemic) GHG emissions, by scope:
- Scope 1 and 2 emissions: 62 percent
- Scope 3 commuting and business travel emissions: 38 percent
Both the Davis and the Sacramento campuses are subject to the California Cap and Trade regulatory program because each campus emits more than 25,000 MTCO2e per year at this time.
The Sustainability team is currently assembling the 2020 GHG inventory.
UC Davis climate action planning uses a “loading order” of actions:
1. Reduce/eliminate growth of total campus energy use due to new facilities
2. Reduce demand:
a. Improve energy efficiency at existing facilities
b. Reduce user demand through conservation behaviors
3. Replace fossil fuels (high GHG emissions) with renewable energy
4. Sequester or offset carbon
The UC Davis Climate Action Plan (CAP) is the roadmap for reaching campus climate goals. It is prepared by the Office of Sustainability, which analyses campus issues relating to GHG emissions, energy use and energy sourcing. The plan presents calculations of current and past GHG emissions, establishes emissions reduction goals, characterizes reduction options and provides a blueprint for future action.
The Sustainability team uses a modeling tool to analyze portfolios of solutions to understand, plan and implement various actions to reduce GHG emissions. The model is updated annually to incorporate the latest GHG inventory data and update the solutions. The following “wedge graph” reflects the current plan to achieve carbon neutrality for UC Davis.
The CAP currently places priority on actions that address Scope 1 and 2 emissions related to campus operations, with an eye to the 2025 carbon neutrality goal. An important step forward in significantly reducing our fossil fuel use and GHG emissions is our Big Shift project to move our district steam heating system to more efficient hot water; this major infrastructure investment will also create a path for electrification.
Other CAP strategies to reduce GHG emissions are focused primarily on campus energy use because a large proportion of the energy used to power the campus is generated from the combustion of fossil fuels. Energy efficiency, on-site renewable energy and clean energy programs are discussed in detail in the Energy section of this website. Strategies for new and existing buildings are in the Buildings pages.
As a complement to the Climate Action Plan, UC Davis Health has created a Sustainability Roadmap, which positions the Sacramento campus to shift portions of the campus to all-electric infrastructure over time. This will help the Sacramento campus make progress in achieving the UC’s 2025 carbon neutrality goal.
Scope 3 commuting and business travel emissions are also considered in the CAP. Transportation management solutions are being invested in and implemented at both the Davis and Sacramento campuses to help reduce commuter emissions.
RECs and Carbon Offsets
Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and carbon offsets are market-based instruments for reducing the level of carbon emissions attributed to an organization. These instruments allow organizations to purchase the carbon reduction value of an off-site project, such as a forest, bio gas production facility or solar array owned by another organization, in order to lower the amount carbon emissions attributed to their own organization. These are legitimate means to reduce overall global emissions, when sourced and retired responsibly. A carbon offset credit is for one ton of GHG emissions. A REC is the equivalent of 1 megawatt-hour of renewably generated electricity.
UC Davis uses RECs, such as those from the campus's participation in the University's solar power plant in Fresno County, California, to reduce the GHG emissions of our purchased electricity. The Davis campus also contractually holds the RECs generated by our on-site solar power plant, in order to retain the environmental benefits of the renewable energy production.
The CAP also acknowledges that achieving climate neutrality will require fundamental shifts in policy at the national and international levels, as well as advances in energy production and storage technologies to shift from fossil fuel use.
Academic Research and Teaching
The University of California is pursuing carbon neutrality through our research and teaching, as well as our operations. UC faculty, including UC Davis faculty members, created a roadmap and the Bending the Curve executive summary.
UC Davis researchers are leading contributors to the understanding of climate change causes, effects and solutions. Our campuses are frequently used as a proving ground for technologies developed here. Implementing practical solutions is a collaborative effort involving research units and administrative departments.
Founded by the UC Davis John Muir Institute, the One Climate Initiative takes multidisciplinary approach to address three long-term goals: create a climate-resilient society, scale solutions to eliminate greenhouse gasses from human activities, and develop new models for human behavior that support sustainability for future generations.
Sequestering carbon means recapturing it from the atmosphere. Trees and plants do this very effectively, and sequestration is an excellent way to reduce GHG levels in the atmosphere. The UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden is preparing a Living Landscape Adaptation Plan to steward our campus landscape through climate change and retain benefits such as shading to reduce urban heat island, and carbon sequestration.
Involving the Campus Community in the Pursuit of Carbon Neutrality
We invite campus participation to support the Carbon Neutrality Initiative through engagement programs, including:
- Bonnie Reiss Carbon Neutrality Student Fellowship Program. This program funds student-generated projects that support systemwide carbon neutrality. The program is named for the late UC Regent Bonnie Reiss who was a passionate advocate for action to address global climate change.
- Meet UC Davis's 2020 CNI Fellows
- Apply for a CNI Fellowship (We’ll make this an active link when applications are open.)
- Roots on Campus is a campus tree-planting event whose objective is to sequester carbon and help shape a more sustainable campus environment. The project was initiated by Carbon Neutrality Initiative Student Fellow, Eileen Hollett, in 2019. The inaugural year was sponsored by UC Davis Sustainability and The Green Initiative Fund.
- Read more at: Cool Campus Challenge Creates Shade