Carbon Offsets

Global climate change and its consequences are critical challenges of our time, and Yale has important and necessary roles to play in addressing them.”
 
Climate change is disrupting life on earth in ways we have never seen before. Scientists warn we need to rapidly reduce and capture man-made carbon if we want a reasonable chance of preventing the worst impacts of global warming.
 
In 2005 Yale initiated a multi-pronged strategy to fight global climate change, setting a goal to cut its emissions by 43% below 2005 levels by 2020. The university has since committed to become carbon neutral—reducing its net contributions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the atmosphere to zero by or before 2050.
 
On-campus initiatives have cut Yale’s emissions by 20% below 2005 levels. Meeting Yale’s 2020 target will require reducing Yale’s carbon footprint by another 23%. The original emissions reduction strategy created in 2005 anticipated that on-campus improvements would not achieve the deep GHG reductions rapidly enough to meet the 2020 target. Understanding these constraints, the University determined in 2005 that it would need to offset approximately 65,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MTCDE) in 2019 to meet its 2020 goal.
 
Yale is beginning to buy and develop third-party verified carbon offsets to implement, assess and refine scientifically-supported climate solutions while accelerating Yale’s progress toward achieving carbon neutrality.
 
  • Verified carbon offsets must reduce, remove, or avoid greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Purchases support existing off-campus carbon offset projects or develop new carbon reducing projects.
  • Engaging the Yale community is essential when considering generative off-campus carbon offsets.

What’s an Offset?

A verified carbon offset, or verified emission reduction (VER) is a reduction, removal, or avoidance of one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent from the atmosphere. Purchasing VERs can counterbalance emissions that take place on Yale’s campus.
 
Some purchased VERs will be subtracted against Yale’s own emissions, accelerating the University’s pace to meeting its own emissions reduction targets. Other VERs may be held and subtracted later or sold to other organizations seeking to reduce their own carbon footprints.
 
As on-campus energy efficiency improvements continue to drive down on-campus emissions, Yale’s use of VERs to help meet its targets will also decline.
 

Environmental Integrity

Verified carbon offsets can be a powerful tool when they exhibit environmental integrity and deliver the greenhouse gas reduction they promise. Non-profit, third-party organizations have established rigorous standards to certify the integrity of carbon offsets that are produce, including:
Yale values environmental integrity and will only purchase and develop offsets that meet these standards and are verified by a third-party auditor. In addition, Yale’s emission accounting will align with the reporting standards set by The Climate Registry, whose own standards are based on the Greenhouse Gas Protocol.
 

Combined Strategy

Even with the addition of VERs, Yale’s core emissions reduction strategy remains intact. On-campus improvements remain the primary tool in Yale’s suite of climate solutions. Since 2005, the University has built and comprehensively renovated more than 6 million sq. ft. of space–all to higher than market performance standards. It has also renovated two cogeneration plants, built a 50 megawatt (MW) wind farm and a 1.5 MW onsite solar farm, and taken many other steps to reduce carbon emissions.
 
While such on-campus measures take many years to achieve, off-campus solutions can be deployed more quickly and with a wider range of technologies, partners, benefits, and locations. Yale’s experimentation with offsetting holds the potential to:
 
  • Pilot new climate finance practices that support environmental stewardship
  • Develop a sustainable model for institutions to reduce their carbon emissions 
  • Pursue innovative research partnerships and efforts that could contribute to solutions and service the academic community