Climate-Commitment Backers Release a Guide to Offsets at Sustainability Conference

ACUPCC_smallThe American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) is part ecoAmerica's suite of programs aimed at greening higher education.  The program involves school Presidents working towards climate neutrality at their campuses.  As a result of a request by the ACUPCC steering committee, the Commitment spearheaded an effort to develop a Carbon Offset Protocol handbook.  The guidelines were developed over a six-month period through a collaborative process involving signatories, and experts from the offset markets.  The effort has already been written up in several higher ed trade publications including The Chronicle of Higher Education (full text after the jump).

Posted Nov. 10, 2008
By Scott Carlson, The Chronicle of Higher Education

The organizers of the American College and University Presidents
Climate Commitment have released guidelines that tackle the purchase of
offsets, which is one of the most complicated and controversial issues
in the quest for climate neutrality.

The guidelines,
released here at the national conference of the Association for the
Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education, will act as a guide
for buying offsets, and determining which campus emissions the offsets
should mitigate and which they should not.

Anthony Cortese,
who is president of the nonprofit group Second Nature and an organizer
of the climate commitment, said he hoped that campus administrators
would read the guidelines before making decisions about buying offsets.
“There are a lot of people who have knee-jerk reactions to offsets,” he
said.

David Shi, president of Furman University, noted that
the offset market now is unregulated and can involve risky investments.
The market “is in what I call its wildcat phase,” said Mr. Shi, who
worked on the guidelines. He hopes the participation of
higher-education institutions will help develop the market.

Offsets
are essentially paying someone to reduce or capture greenhouse-gas
emissions somewhere in the world, then claiming those reductions to
mitigate the gases spewing out of your own smokestacks, furnaces, and
tailpipes. Buy enough offsets, and you can claim to be carbon neutral.

Backers
of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment
have long said that offsets will play some role in reaching climate
neutrality, the ultimate goal of the commitment. But among college
presidents, offsets have had their share of detractors. Some have
regarded offsets as a kind of scam — some institutions have found
themselves sending off money for projects that never happen. Others
liken offsets to the medieval practice of buying indulgences. And more
have been confused about what types of offset programs are most
effective — planting trees, setting up green power, sponsoring
efficiency projects, and so on.

The new guidelines have some basic principles at their core:

First,
offsets should be used only to mitigate emissions that colleges cannot
deal with through efficiency measures or on-campus power generation.
Such steps should be the first priorities. Emissions known as “Scope 3”
emissions, which cover off-campus activities like commuting and air
travel, might be mitigated through offsets.

Second, colleges
should purchase offsets that provide teaching opportunities or benefits
for their local communities. As an example, Mr. Shi pointed to Duke
University’s work with hog farms, one of the biggest environmental
despoilers in North Carolina. He said the university is paying for
projects that capture and utilize methane, a potent greenhouse gas and
pollutant, from pig waste. The project not only allows Duke to claim a
greenhouse-gas offset, it also helps the local community and provides a
research opportunity for students — a “win-win-win,” he said.

Mr.
Shi said that Furman, which is in Greenville, S.C., might look for its
own win-win-win opportunities by sponsoring mass-transportation
projects in its area.

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