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URBANA — After more than a decade of activism, the University of Illinois is committing to divesting its investments in fossil fuels.

That’s among the 56 goals in the 2020 Illinois Climate Action Plan, which Chancellor Robert Jones plans to sign at 3 p.m. Tuesday during the virtual Campus Sustainability Celebration.

The updated Climate Action Plan has Jones sending a letter encouraging divestment to the University of Illinois Foundation, which manages the endowment with an independent board.

The university has already divested its direct investments in coal, and under the new goal, by fiscal 2025, it would divest from other fossil-fuel companies, which currently make up less than 1 percent of its portfolio.

The plan, developed by the UI’s Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment and Facilities & Services, also calls on the university to commit to a sustainable investing policy by fiscal 2024.

In the spring, the UI system said it would be investing nearly $160 million of its $720 million endowment into a new portfolio strategy focused on companies that rate highly on environmental, social and governance criteria.

Like its last update in 2015, the plan calls on the UI to reach carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest.

Sustainability Programs Coordinator Meredith Moore said the 2020 update has been more than a year in the making, with input from students, faculty and staff, various revisions and forums and feedback from experts.

“It’s really our to-do list for the next five years,” Moore said. The goals are “definitely ambitious, but also achievable.”

Each of the goals has specific, measurable benchmarks so progress can be tracked.

Other goals include:

  • Adding 1,500 trees on campus by fiscal 2024 and 3,000 by fiscal 2030.
  • Using clean-energy sources for 15 percent of total campus demand by fiscal 2030. In fiscal 2019, only 2.8 percent of total campus energy use was sourced from clean energy, according to the plan.
  • Reducing net air-travel emissions by 100 percent by fiscal 2030.

“That’s going to be a challenging objective,” Moore said. “Traveling less is really the big thing. One of the biggest aspects COVID-19 taught us is that we don’t really need to travel to every conference.”

And essential airplane travel could be offset, Moore said.

The plan also calls on the UI to develop a coordinated plan with Champaign, Urbana and Savoy that tackles urban biodiversity, green job programs and environmental justice.

Moore called the updated plan “a strategic plan to expand a culture of sustainability.”

It calls for sustainability education to be incorporated across the UI curriculum and for the promotion of zero-waste events, which use durable goods instead of disposables.

“We will work with campus to hopefully incorporate sustainability in the gen-ed requirements,” Moore said. “We’re trying to make it more of an entire campus-wide effort.”

Reporter

Ben Zigterman is a reporter covering business at The News-Gazette. His email is bzigterman@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@bzigterman).

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