In July, the University of California enacted new, more assertive goals to tackle the climate change crisis affecting college campuses, California, and the world. Recognizing a need to adopt stronger sustainability policies, campus administrators gathered with climate experts to develop reasonable targets rooted in current research. These new goals build upon the UC’s Carbon Neutrality Initiative and aim to decrease carbon emissions across all ten UC campuses and six health centers. 

In 2013, the Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) was introduced to the UCs, setting a target to become climate neutral in UC’s operational emissions by 2025. With this initiative, the UC system has achieved significant success. For example, over 100 on-site solar projects have been completed across the UCs. Additionally, all on-campus electricity will be carbon-free in the next two years, a major achievement for an institution serving over 280,000 students.  

In an effort to shift away from the reliance of offsets and to refocus on direct reductions, the UC Policy requires a 90% direct reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by no later than 2045, from a 2019 baseline. The new goal not only includes operational emissions but includes Scope 3 emissions from commuting, business travel, and waste generation. 

The UC emissions target deliberately reflects the state of California’s new climate goals. Last year, Governor Newsom signed the California Climate Crisis Act (AB-1279) which requires the state of California to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, with anthropogenic emissions reduced to at least 85% below 1990 levels. As a leading research institution, the University of California mirrors these goals, supporting California’s united climate response.

To ensure near term progress towards the new goal, , the UC policy requires that all campuses set individual Scope 1 emission reduction targets for 2030, 2035, and 2040 years. 

UC Santa Barbara is committed to limiting greenhouse gas emissions and has already reduced total emissions to ~60% below 1990 levels, undeterred by the exponential growth of the student body. Additionally, almost 15% of UCSB’s annual electricity demands are met through on-campus solar installations. The main campus’ remaining electricity demand is met through the procurement of carbon-free electricity through the UC Clean Power Program. 

A new task force has been assembled called the Pathway to a Fossil-Free UC, a group responsible for overseeing the use of decarbonization funds. Each UC location has received funding for decarbonization planning efforts. The Pathways to a Fossil Free UC (P2FFUC) Task Force is responsible for overseeing the distribution and use of the funds and has developed scoping guidance for the state-funded decarbonization studies. 

By Elle Viefhaus, UCSB Sustainability Communications and Outreach Coordinator, 2023-2024 


For more information on the programs mentioned, visit the following websites:

UC Climate Goals FAQs
UC Annual Sustainability Report
UC Clean Power Program
Pathways to a Fossil Free UC (P2FFUC) Task Force
UCSB Decarbonization Study