Fossil fuel-free goes beyond carbon-free 

The 2017 Climate Change Task Force recommended Harvard aim to be fossil fuel-free, as opposed to carbon-free.

Fossil fuels are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and a focus on only carbon leaves out the additional impacts on public health and ecosystems from other pollutants and waste associated with the sourcing, production, and burning of fossil fuels. These public health impacts are in addition to the damages already occurring as a result of climate change, such as drought, wildfires, sea-level rise, food supply, drinking water supply, and other impacts. View the full report of the task force

Harvard is focusing on climate, health, and equity

Fossil fuels are the largest source of air pollution emissions globally. According to the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health report, air pollution remains a leading cause of death resulting in 6.5 million premature deaths a year, much of which can be attributed to fossil fuel use. There are also other upstream health and ecosystem impacts of fossil fuel production, which are also not accounted for in a social cost of carbon analysis.

Air pollutant emissions do not impact all locations or all communities equally. Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities and low-income communities are more vulnerable to damage and disease from these pollutants due to other social determinants of health, as well as historical inequities from situating pollution sources near minority communities. Understanding who fossil fuel pollution is harming most is necessary in understanding the full impacts of fossil fuels on public health today.

Learn more about the research that is informing Harvard’s climate goals

Harvard Faculty Research 

Office for Sustainability led White Papers

A bridging strategy to drive down global emissions

The goal to become fossil fuel-free by 2050 will require the University to transition to a fossil fuel-free energy system for the campus (i.e. district energy system, transportation system, and electricity supply) by 2050 without the use of offsetting mechanisms, to the extent possible. This transition will require time, resources, and technological innovations. 

The interim goal to be fossil fuel-neutral by 2026 is in response to the latest scientific findings that the world is not reducing global emissions fast enough to mitigate the worst public health, ecosystem, and economic impacts of climate change. We need bold, large-scale action now, to rapidly reduce global emissions, in parallel with the work to eliminate fossil fuel use on campus.  Harvard and others can play a role in increasing the demand for—and thus the supply of— more fossil fuel-free energy production. By working with our researchers to identify new, cost-effective global solutions that can have the biggest immediate impacts, we can encourage and accelerate the provision of new technology, helping to transform the whole economy. 

The commonly used options to achieve carbon neutrality goals (Renewable Energy Certificates and carbon offsets) do not consider air pollution public health impacts from fossil fuels. Understanding, with data, the full public health impacts of fossil fuels can inform where and how we choose to offset Harvard’s emissions, and more importantly how cities, states and national governments should prioritize their efforts to eliminate fossil fuels.