Last week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the University of Washington convened a forum on leveraging the capabilities of colleges and universities to catalyze climate solutions in communities across the country. This forum was part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader efforts to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050, and increase community resilience to extreme weather and other climate impacts.
The forum brought together more than 800 people – including representatives from universities and colleges from nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia – to learn about success stories in campus innovations, community engagement, and inter-campus coordination, as well as new opportunities created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.
Participants represented institutions across the higher education landscape, including:
- Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions; and
- Community colleges, land-grant institutions, public and private institutions, and workforce development institutions.
The opening leadership session highlighted the unique opportunity for colleges and universities to partner with communities to deliver climate solutions, and the decisive role that actions this decade will play in determining our climate future. The session started with remarks from OSTP Deputy Director for Energy Sally Benson, who discussed the importance of an inclusive effort – one that leverages the strengths of communities from across the country – to tackle one of the defining issues of our time.
National Science Foundation Assistant Director for Geosciences Alexandra Isern then discussed the powerful interactions between campuses and communities, declaring that “the time is right for these ideal incubators.” Finally, White House Deputy National Climate Advisor Mary Frances Repko closed the session with a call to action, making clear that our nation needs an all-hands-on-deck approach that includes higher education institutions to meet the urgency of the climate crisis.
Three panel discussions showcased key themes, including:
- Starting with trust as the essential ingredient for successful campus and community partnerships;
- Making sure underserved communities that are the most vulnerable to climate impacts are at the forefront of developing and deploying climate solutions;
- Ensuring that students have the knowledge and skills to lead in the clean industries of the future and to plan, deploy, and maintain the climate-smart infrastructure needed;
- Enabling campuses to provide essential climate extension services to states, municipalities, and indigenous communities; and
- Campus communities partnering with federal agencies to serve as proving grounds for new climate solutions and demonstrate pathways to net-zero emissions.
OSTP Chief of Staff for Climate and Environment and Assistant Director for Climate Resilience Laura Petes and University of Washington Dean of the College of Environment Maya Tolstoy closed the event by emphasizing the exciting opportunities that exist for higher education institutions to accelerate bold community-scale climate solutions.