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Sunday, April 21, 2024

The UF Student Senate made national headlines for passing the first public university Green New Deal by unanimous vote Feb. 21. 

The resolution is written in five volumes and tackles a list of demands to address climate change. 

The resolutions underscore the belief that UF's high-ranking status, being a “leader in climate science,” should incite action in getting UF to join other universities that have adopted green new deals. 

For the GND to go into effect, its authors and supporters must gain support within the Office of Sustainability. 

Then, it requires approval from Vice President of Business Affairs Curtis Reynolds before being heard by the UF Board of Trustees.

It is unclear whether the GND has been added to the upcoming board meetings March 7 and 8. 

Volume one: Adoption of Climate Action Plan 2.0 

UF climate action started in 2006 when then-President Bernie Machen became one of the first presidents to join the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

Following Machen’s actions, a group of staff and faculty, called the Energy and Climate Change Task Force, published the first edition of the Climate Action Plan in 2009. The CAP focused on infrastructure energy efficiency, expanding greenhouse gas emission monitoring and reduction campaigns, and creating a foundation for “long term, institutional change.” 

UF met the requirements of CAP 1.0 in reducing emissions by 18% in 2020, according to the UF Office of Sustainability.

Climate Action Plan 2.0, which is still under consideration by administration, continues UF’s goal in CAP 1.0 to be carbon neutral for all tracked campus greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2025. 

Although UF CAP’s progress was to be reviewed annually, as well as revised and updated every three years, the updated drafting didn’t start until 2021. CAP 2.0 hasn’t yet been adopted by the university, pending administrative approval.

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“While the updated Climate Action Plan awaits review, our office continues to diligently work behind the scenes to ensure progress is ongoing,” wrote Matt Williams, director of the Office of Sustainability.

UF declined to comment on the time gap between the first and second editions of the CAP. 

Volume one of the GND calls for the UF administration to adopt the latest Climate Action Plan in the wake of climate actions being “stalled by the inauguration of [UF President] Ben Sasse,” who has a divisive political history in regard to climate change.

UF hasn’t published the rate of its carbon emissions since 2019. According to the AASHE stars database — which measures college sustainability performance –– UF has not self-reported its data since 2020. 

Volume two: Transparency and disclosure 

Volume two calls on UF to publish information on its carbon emissions and an audit of its investments into carbon-producing industries, like fossil fuels. It also asks for an audit of contributions made on behalf of UF to the fossil fuel industry. 

UF’s endowment fund is managed by the UF Investment Corporation, which is owned by UF and does not receive state support. The corporation publishes university audits, but it lacks the specific details being demanded in the GND. 

The biggest concern for GND authors Meagan Lamey and Cameron Driggers is the lack of investment transparency.

“It was one of the biggest hurdles we came across,” said Driggers, a 19-year-old UF business administration junior. “We, above all else, deserve to know how that money is being spent.”

The UF Foundation, an independent fundraising group, oversees UFICO. It publishes an annual overview of its values, but it also lacks details about sustainability practices. As of 2023, the endowment is valued at $2.3 billion. 

Because the UF Foundation is a private corporation acting on behalf of a public corporation, public records about its finances could’ve been accessed under 501 jurisdiction. 

Lamey and Driggers didn’t request public records pertaining to carbon emissions or financial records, saying it wasn’t necessary for the bill. 

College endowments are not highly taxed and face little federal regulation. There is a long history of colleges keeping their endowments private, the Associated Press reported. 

Because public universities are state funded, they must share endowment audits, like the one published by UFICO, according to Florida statutes.  

Volume three: Call for divestment of endowment funds in fossil fuels 

Volume three calls for UF to sell its investments in fossil fuel-related industries. It also looks to improve UF’s environmental, social and governance ratings. 

ESG ratings assess a company’s sustainability and ethical performance. As of May 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis banned ESG initiatives at the state and local level, calling it a “woke scam.”

By adopting ESG initiatives, UF can risk losing funding from the state, which Lamey declined to comment on. 

Volumes four and five: Call for a clean research pledge and just transition

Volume four demands UF not accept funding or contribution from a fossil fuel industry for climate research.

UF maintains ties with fossil fuel industries, including Exxon Mobil. UF’s office of student financial aid offers a short-term loan through Exxon, and a UF Foundation page asks alumni to donate to funds run by the oil company.

Divesting from fossil fuels entirely could pose a problem for students benefiting from scholarships and loans like that of Exxon Mobil, Lamey admitted.

Volume five explains that climate change disproportionately affects diverse communities.

Reports from the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that racial and ethnic minority communities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

Looking ahead

Saketh Damera, UF Senate president pro-tempore and student body treasurer-elect, said the GND doesn't yet mandate an action from university administration. Instead, it simply expresses the students’ sentiments toward the issue.

For the resolution to go into effect, the authors of the bill, as well as the local climate action coalitions that sponsored it, must work with UF administration on how to implement it. 

Although historically the author or sponsor of the bill takes it to administration, anyone passionate about the topic can support the GND, Damera added. 

“I think anybody who’s passionate about the topic can take it [with them] to administration and really work towards it,” he said. 

Contact Sara-James Ranta at sranta@alligator.org. Follow her on X @sarajamesranta.


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