Update on the Travel Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Proposal

Last fall the Campus Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) presented a proposal to the Presidential Advisory Group and the faculty for reducing air travel greenhouse gas emissions. In essence, it called for a Climate Damage Charge based on the Social Cost of Carbon concept that would be levied on all college-sponsored air travel emissions. The Damage Charge would be accompanied by an annual Prebate (or carbon dividend), a fixed dollar amount that would be allocated to faculty research budgets and administrative departments and from which the carbon charges would be deducted. For the majority of travelers the prebate would be sufficient to cover charges, the main effect of the proposal thus coming from travelers considering the climate damage cost in their travel planning and being incentivized to choose lower-carbon alternatives.

The proposal was critiqued by many faculty members as being inequitable and running counter to Williams being a leading liberal arts higher education institution with a global educational mission. A CEAC sub-committee subsequently consulted with faculty and developed revised proposals that offer more flexibility for faculty with different travel needs in order to address equity concerns and a longer information-only period (i.e., without a charge and prebate).

The revisions reflect CEAC’s belief that travel, now the College’s second-largest tabulated source of carbon emissions, should be part of our portfolio of climate actions and complement efforts to reduce fossil fuel combustion on campus and source 100% of our electricity from clean renewables. The revised proposal was shared with President Mandel, Provost Love and VP for Finance and Operations Mike Wagner in mid-April, followed by a meeting to discuss next steps in mid-May. We are confident that reducing travel GHG emissions will remain an area of active work for the College and believe that CEAC has laid robust groundwork for implementing reasonable and meaningful approaches and policies concerning travel emissions that will help the College on its path to net-zero emissions.

-Tanja Srebotnjak & Mike Evans