University of Michigan OKs ‘net zero’ carbon emission plan


TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The University of Michigan announced a plan Thursday to achieve “net zero” carbon footprint status for its $12.5 billion endowment by 2050 through measures including shifting away from investment in fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

The strategy approved by the university’s board of regents includes a pledge to move away from holdings in funds that focus primarily on extraction of oil or thermal coal. It calls for $140 million worth of new investments in solar and wind developments and projects to limit carbon emissions.

“The fundamental goal is to wring carbon out of our entire investment portfolio,” board member Mark Bernstein said.

The plan does not promise a complete ban on companies with ties to fossil fuels, although university President Mark Schlissel told The Associated Press they gradually would “head down toward zero.” The broader goal, he said, is to move away from those “that don’t adequately and quickly take account of the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

“Substantial greenhouse gas emissions occur outside of the energy sector, and net zero applies broadly rather than targeting a single industry,” Schlissel said in a statement.

Numerous governments, businesses and universities have committed to net zero carbon footprints in the push to reduce emissions of gases that trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Carbon dioxide, the main such gas, is released when fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas are burned. Others, such as methane, also contribute to warming.

“Net zero” generally means offsetting emissions of greenhouse gases with reductions elsewhere. Under the University of Michigan plan, endowment holdings in assets with carbon output would be balanced with investments in carbon reductions by 2050.

The university will continue its current practice of not investing in the top 200 oil, gas and coal companies or those that extract tar sands oil, a thick, sticky substance that must be heated before moving through pipelines to refineries.

Michigan’s new investment strategy follows the release of a report last week with other recommendations to meet a net zero goal for greenhouse gas emissions at its Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses. They range from installing more efficient heating and cooling systems to encouraging use of electric vehicles.

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