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How Duke is helping North Carolina reduce greenhouse gas emissions

The United States may have withdrawn from the Paris Climate Agreement, but Duke and North Carolina are trying to stick it out. 

After the United States backed out of the Paris Climate Accords, numerous institutions, governments and organizations have joined the We Are Still In Coalition. The agreement was signed into effect in 2016 as a United Nations pact created to manage and mitigate the physical, economic and social implications of global greenhouse gas emissions.

“This coalition began as a declaration from businesses, cities, colleges and universities and governors saying that we still support the goals of the Paris Agreement, that we believe the U.S. should continue to be a leader on addressing climate change and we as institutions will continue to take action to uphold these goals,” said Kevin Taylor, Nicholas School ‘08 and a representative for the We Are Still In movement.

Taylor, a World Wildlife Fund senior program officer for cities and climate, pointed out that what started as a declaration of about 1,200 institutions and organizations has expanded into a coalition of about 3,800, which includes the state of North Carolina and Duke University. 

Since joining this nationally growing movement, Gov. Roy Cooper has signed into action Executive Order 80, which was designed to promote a transition toward a clean energy economy in North Carolina. With the support of We Are Still In and such partner institutions as Duke, the governor’s larger goal is complete carbon neutrality by 2050.

Tavey Capps, sustainability director for Sustainable Duke, described Duke’s novel position in this larger endeavor. 

“If you look at overall North Carolina emissions, Duke University’s contribution is less than 1%,” Capps wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “However, this institution, with its focus on innovation, public service and global connections, is uniquely situated to be an example of climate leadership.”

She added that Duke’s climate action plan has put the University in a good position to contribute to the state’s larger goals. 

“I think the state goals align well to support Duke University’s existing carbon neutrality commitment,” Capps wrote. 

North Carolina is “almost a decade ahead of where [it] thought in terms of energy production,” said Sushma Masemore, deputy assistant secretary for environment and director of state energy at the North Carolina department of environmental quality. At an approximate 23.7% decrease from 2005 levels of greenhouse gas emissions, North Carolina appears to be on target with the Paris Climate Accord objectives, she explained.

Taylor noted that current goals “get us halfway to keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius.” The end goal is to use the voices of institutions like the North Carolina governor’s office and Duke to encourage the federal government to recommit themselves to the accords. 

“On the student side, having discussions like this at a university presents an opportunity to better involve students,” Taylor said. “The voice of youth and the engagement of youth in the issue is becoming more and more important and visible.”

Combating climate change shouldn’t always have to be a partisan problem, Capps explained. If clean energy can be a priority for a conservative state like North Carolina, then the state can be an example for others going forward.

“I think the most important thing that Duke students can do in this arena is educate themselves about climate change, learn about the University’s and North Carolina’s climate goals, and think about their personal daily choices,” Capps wrote. 

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