As part of its commitment to addressing the climate crisis, UC integrates efforts to accelerate its transition away from fossil fuels with its academic mission: building upon cutting-edge climate research, expanding UC’s development of next-generation climate leaders and spreading knowledge to benefit California and the nation.
The University of California awarded $1 million for climate-related innovation and entrepreneurship to each UC campus, as well as the UC Health system, the UC statewide division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the statewide UC Natural Reserve System, and the UC-affiliated Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley national laboratories. These funds were made possible by a $185 million investment by the state of California in partnership with the University to encourage applied research and innovation to meet California’s climate mitigation, adaptation and resilience needs.
In 2023, the University of California Research Initiatives, through Multicampus Research Programs and Initiatives awards, made $6.5 million in new investments in multicampus and systemwide research projects tackling climate, energy and equity. Highlights from these investments include:
- The California Initiative for Solid-to-Plasma Dynamics for Fusion Energy, a collaboration between UC campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore national labs that explores possibilities for controlled fusion and its implications for sustainable energy
- Toxic Air Pollutants in California Environmental Justice Communities, bringing together researchers from UC campuses, as well as community partners, to develop novel approaches to air quality measurement and advocacy for disadvantaged communities
UC Research and Innovation spearheaded the establishment of the Alliance for Renewable Clean Hydrogen Energy Systems, California’s public-private hydrogen hub consortium to accelerate the development and deployment of clean, renewable hydrogen projects and infrastructure. Clean hydrogen can supplement renewable energy sources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and advance a zero-carbon economy. The U.S. Department of Energy will award $8 billion to as many as 10 regional hubs to build self-sustaining hydrogen economies of producers, infrastructure and users. In partnership with the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, UC Research and Innovation convened key public and private stakeholders to build the framework for a California clean hydrogen hub.
CalTestBed is the nation’s largest ecosystem of test bed facilities for clean energy entrepreneurs. Since CalTestBed’s inception in 2019, UC Research and Innovation has partnered closely with program administrator New Energy Nexus and with UC and LBNL testing facilities to advance the commercialization of California’s clean energy technology. Funded by the California Energy Commission, CalTestBed will provide $16.7 million in vouchers to clean energy innovators to test their proposed technology at one of more than 70 unique facilities and labs across the UC system.
UC Natural Reserve System
The UC Natural Reserve System (NRS) received $1 million from the state of California to seed climate-focused entrepreneurial efforts as part of an $80 million award to UCOP to support climate innovation research. The NRS Climate Awards will support five projects providing applied solutions to California’s pressing climate needs:
- Automation of the analysis of drone data to assess the risk of wildfire on landscapes
- Use of image recognition technology to speed identification of small vertebrates captured on remote trail cameras, aiding efforts to monitor state biodiversity
- Utilization of data collected by NRS coastal reserves to help communities forecast climate-related hazards such as flooding and marine heat waves
- Funding for students from backgrounds underrepresented in the field sciences to participate in field research at NRS reserves to diversify the environmental workforce
- Development of a tool for land managers to customize fire fuel treatments and understand how different management choices will affect wildfire risk, ecosystem impacts and wildfire resilience
Systemwide courses relating to climate change and sustainability continued to grow and scale in fiscal year 2022–23. The UC Global Climate Leadership Council supported the ongoing expansion of the Bending the Curve course platform with topics on resilience, adaptation and climate justice, with more than 4,300 enrollees at UC and institutions around the world through the spring 2023 term. The open-access Bending the Curve Digital Textbook, a companion to the course, was downloaded over 22,000 times through fiscal year 2022–23. Additionally, the Center for Climate Justice began updating and expanding its systemwide climate justice course in response to emerging developments in the field as well as growing interest in climate justice education and career opportunities.
The University of California’s environmental sustainability goals are rooted in student activism, beginning 20 years ago when students encouraged the Regents to approve UC’s first green building and clean energy policy, which they did in 2003.
The UC Office of the President oversees the Bonnie Reiss Climate Action Student Fellowship and Global Food Initiative (GFI) Student Fellowship programs, which fund student-generated research and engagement projects across all UC campuses, academic health centers, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the UC Office of the President.
The Bonnie Reiss Climate Action fellows engage their peers in local and systemwide climate action and conduct innovative research to advance climate solutions. In fiscal year 2022–23, fellows focused on climate resilience, decarbonization, and climate and environmental justice. The fellows helped pursue a fossil-free UC through projects such as analyzing energy storage needs, conducting cost-benefit analyses on different clean energy technologies and researching strategies to support the decarbonization plans being developed at their campuses.
Climate Action Fellows
annual fellows in 2022–23
total fellows since 2014
Global Food Initiative Fellows
annual fellows in 2022–23
total fellows since 2014
The University of California’s Academic Senate carries out shared governance responsibilities established by the Regents and relating to academic matters. Academic Senate divisions continue to advance climate action and education, as the highlights below illustrate.
Sponsorship of State-Funded Campus Decarbonization Studies
A 2022 memorial petitioning the Regents for investments in UC’s infrastructure to reduce on-campus fossil fuel combustion prompted the formation of the Pathways to a Fossil Free UC Task Force by President Drake. The task force, which includes the Academic Senate chair and vice chair, is responsible for developing recommendations on the necessary steps and a timeline to eliminate the use of fossil fuels in each location’s energy systems and to strengthen UC’s climate action policy goals, informed by the findings of state-funded decarbonization studies at each campus and academic health center. The leadership of the ad hoc systemwide Senate Climate Crisis Task Force helped ensure involvement of local senate representatives in the decarbonization studies and co-executive sponsorship of the studies by divisional senate leaders.
Review of Policy on Sustainable Practices
In its review of proposed revisions to the UC Policy on Sustainable Practices, the senate applauded the University’s efforts to advance climate neutrality goals but also urged UC to move more quickly and proactively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to shift its focus and effort away from climate neutrality goals to decarbonization goals, and to implement the fossil fuel reduction targets in the Academic Senate Memorial on Reducing Fossil Fuel Combustion. The senate’s recommendations were reflected in the updated policy published in July 2023.
Campus-Level Senate Climate Crisis Committee Accomplishments
Academic Senate divisions advocated for climate leadership and provided input on plans to reduce carbon emissions in campus facilities, transportation, clinical work and academic travel.
Some additional notable campus-level senate climate crisis committee activities include the following:
- UCLA’s Special Committee on the Campus Response to the Climate Crisis affirmed in a letter to the Campus Expansion Joint Task Force the importance of climate neutrality and climate justice in the academic theme and operations of UCLA’s planned South Bay campus.
- UC Merced’s Faculty Advisory Committee on Sustainability worked with its Office of Sustainability on a campus biodiversity initiative and submitted a proposal to partner with the city of Merced on the topic of xeriscaping. The committee also met with department chairs to discuss improving environmental communication and interdisciplinary collaboration and drafted updated sustainability program learning outcomes for campus-wide adoption.
- UC San Diego’s Climate Change Committee worked with the administration to halt a hydrogen blending experiment proposed for graduate student housing, collaborated with campus engineers on a series of courses focused on campus decarbonization, and passed a climate change education requirement and a financial disclosure policy through the senate.
- UCSF designated 2022–23 and 2023–24 as theme years focused on reducing carbon emissions, and the Senate Committee on Sustainability is leading working groups to engage the campus on topics such as electrification, medical waste, transportation and the culture of academic travel.
- The UC Riverside, UC Merced and UC Santa Cruz senates are advising their administrations about the use of additional state funding earmarked for climate research infrastructure on those three campuses.
Photo credit: Sierra Streit, students at wind farm