Neutrality, Innovation, Leadership

About the Plan

The Climate Action Plan is the University's overarching strategy for moving to a low-carbon future, and demonstrating climate leadership through neutrality, innovation, and leadership. 

Our Approach

The path to carbon neutrality for Cornell University is comprised of three, interdependent pillars of action.
They help reduce our campus emissions and harness our academic and land-grant educational mission. 

Neutrality                                                 

Reduce Cornell University's campus carbon emissions to zero by 2035 from our 2008 baseline. 

Related commitments:
Renewable Energy by 2035
Earth Source Heat

Innovation                                               

Create a living laboratory for
low-impact behaviors and climate change education and research.  

Related commitments:
Climate Literacy

Leadership                                               

Lead by example, on campus and beyond by leveraging partnership and knowledge sharing.

Related commitments
Renewable Energy by 2035
Earth Source Heat

Learn more about related commitments and plans.


Depiction of Earth Source Heat Phase 3, which includes drilling a second well to form an operating pair, creating a demonstration project that could heat a section of campus. After exiting the first well, water circulates through a network of pores and crevasses within hot reservoir rock, absorbing a portion of its thermal energy before a pump forces the water into the second well and back to the surface.
Earth Source Heat - Cornell is currently pursuing early phase research for Earth Source Heat, an enhanced geothermal system that can use earth’s heat to warm our campus. Earth Source Heat has been a Climate Action Plan goal since 2007.


Everyone is involved.

The plan's strategies bring together students, faculty, and staff on matters of research, education, campus stewardship, and outreach - fostering a sense of community and preparedness for the future.  

To do this, we first aspire to advance best practices in our own facilities, then effect global impact by sharing solutions, reporting publicly and transparently, partnering in local and state collaborations, and using our campus as a living laboratory for climate innovation.

What's Happening Today

Earth Source Heat

Currently Cornell is exploring development of Earth Source Heat (image, right, depicts a model of the final technical implementation). 

Exploration of Earth Source Heat as a possibly technological solution for carbon-neutral heat with the potential for replication beyond our campus, and was an original goal in the Climate Action Plan.


More Information

Explore these sections to learn more about our history, key facts, and more.
 

Key Facts


Cornell University's target date for carbon neutrality is 2035.

  • The CAP applies to the Ithaca, NY campus.

  • 2008 is the baseline year from which Cornell measures progress towards neutrality, and measures emissions in line with the Second Nature Carbon Commitment and World Resources Institute GHG Protocol.

  • The Cornell Board of Trustees approved the GHG reduction goal.

  • The three pillars of action in the CAP are Neutrality, Innovation, and Leadership.

    • Each pillar has several priority actions, which are constantly evolving as work is completed or our campus & global circumstances change.

    • In addition to the priority areas, the CAP has 60+ other possible actions for neutrality, literacy, and leadership, which are also constantly evolving.  

  • The plan is intended to enhance the university’s core mission while cutting net carbon emissions. 

Implementation 

Implementation of the CAP is the responsibility of the entire campus community.  Real change is only possible through the work of campus partners at every level working together to create a low-carbon, resilient, and climate-adapted future. 

Responsibilities

Some responsibilities are outlined in the 2013 Climate Action Plan Update.
Cornell's sustainability governance groups, Campus Sustainability Office, and key departments share oversight of actions and progress.  You may also Explore Plan Actions to learn more about implementation, including current priorities. 

Why Carbon Neutrality

It's imperative. Here’s what the evidence is telling us: the climate of our planet is warming at an alarming rate and human activities are the cause. How to reverse this trend poses an immense challenge, and the imperative to change our course is here, now. As one of the world’s leading universities, Cornell University has a pivotal role to play. We have a responsibility both to reduce our contribution to climate change and to generate solutions to address the mounting impacts on our planet.

We must take action. For 150 years Cornellians have taken on the world’s issues as our direct challenges. We are committed to find new solutions to complex problems. What has kept Cornell at the forefront of the sustainability movement is our institution-wide commitment to focus our collective strengths in education, research, and public engagement toward one of humanity’s greatest challenges – climate change. We put this commitment into action every day, in ways large and small.

Headshot of John Siliciano, Deputy Provost of Cornell
John A. Siliciano
Deputy Provost, Cornell University


Senior Leadership on the Climate Action Plan

“Cornell’s early success in cutting greenhouse gas emissions has positioned us as a national leader. In order to maintain our credibility and keep moving in the right direction, we need to continue to tend to our own emissions and we need to educate our own students to become future climate leaders.

The tangible impacts of our Climate Action Plan can be seen through reductions in our carbon footprint here on campus. The intangible impacts can be felt as our students and alumni take action in the world beyond campus. The synergies and symbolism of both types of action are critical to the long-term success of our plan."

 

We're at a crossroads. We have made great progress, but to move ahead we need to change the way we do things. Early successes were achieved through projects that yielded a return on capital investment. Current economic realities, including cheap natural gas and the absence of a price for carbon pollution, mean that further significant progress will be more difficult and will require making key actions institutional priorities to benefit Cornell’s academic mission and achieve carbon neutrality. Working collectively is the answer.

We can achieve our goal. Cornell’s updated Climate Action Plan prioritizes the steps toward campus climate neutrality. Academic and operational innovation are essential to our success. As we work together to create a living laboratory for climate smart behaviors, education, and research, we are engaging the Cornell community in constructive conversations about how best to move forward. These conversations involve faculty across disciplines, students across colleges, staff across campus, and university leadership. The plan incorporates input from key project leaders, as well as ideas and contributions from students, faculty, and staff. There are ways for everyone to get involved.

It takes teamwork. Cornell’s Climate Action Plan presents the comprehensive set of more than 60 actions endorsed by each of the ten PSCC Focus Teams, including one action being spearheaded by the Campus Sustainability Office

History

2007: Cornell Joins the Carbon Commitment
In 2007, Cornell University became one of the first fifty signatories and the first Ivy League institution to sign the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment, now called the Carbon Commitment.  Over 600 campuses in the U.S. participate in the commitment, sharing annual greenhouse gas progress and climate action plans publicly and transparently.  

2009: First Climate Action Plan
After signing the commitment, members of the Cornell community worked to develop the first Climate Action Plan released in 2009.  The CAP was written by Cornell faculty, students, and staff with funding from the state energy authority, NYSERDA. 

2013: Roadmap Update
Cornell releases a significant update to the original CAP.

2014: CAP Moves Online
The CAP becomes a "living document" online.

2014: Goal Acceleration
The original goal for carbon neutrality was 2050, which was accelerated to 2035 after the Acceleration Working Group produced a report in 2014 calling for a neutrality date aligned with leading climate science and global mitigation targets. 

2016: Options Report
The Senior Leaders Climate Action Group releases Options for a Carbon Neutral Campus to identify the best path forward for heating and cooling the campus with zero carbon.