UCLA fining itself for air travel to fight global warming

The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is determined to promote environmentalism by slapping fees on its own air travel.

According to The Daily Bruin, the new initiative will require university departments to pay $25 for each international business-related round trip that involves air transportation and $9 for each domestic trip.

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Renee Fortier, executive director of UCLA Events and Transportation, told the publication that the collected fees will go toward other environmentalist projects financed by the school’s Air Travel Mitigation Fund, boasting that “instead of going out to buy trees for planting, money is returned to fund projects that reduce the campus’s greenhouse gas footprint.”

“Business related air travel at UCLA continues to grow, increasing by almost 50% in the last decade, reaching almost 90,000,000 miles flown in 2016,” the Air Travel Mitigation Fund states on its website, noting that the new fees will be “assessed to the traveler’s department” at the point of reimbursement.

“Sequentially, this means that travel will be booked, travel will occur, reimbursement for that travel will be requested, and during that reimbursement step, the fee will be assessed to each reimbursement submitted after January 1, 2018,” the school explained.

The fee will not apply, however, to the university’s athletic charter flights, study abroad travel, or airfare funded by grants.

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The initiative is presented as an integral part of the school’s broader commitment to slash greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to achieve partial “carbon neutrality” by 2025, though UCLA plans to evaluate the effectiveness of the program in 2020 before deciding whether to make the air-travel fees permanent.

“During the initial pilot, the fund will be used to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects on the UCLA campus through 2025 or through the carbon neutrality target date for [mobile sources],” according to an outline of the project published in December.

The description also includes a guideline from UC Sustainable Practices Policy’s Best Practice Procedures, which states that the school and individual campuses “shall support additional studies, pilot programs and initiatives, including the purchase of air travel offsets and development of campus offset programs, to reduce business air travel emissions.”

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A senior associate director for UCLA Transportation, David Karwaski, told the Daily Bruin that the initiative is among the first of its kind in the U.S., noting that unlike automobile travel, air transportation relies entirely on fossil fuels.

Based on data fed into a “Campus Carbon Calculator” tool, UCLA estimates that its business-related air travel contributed to the release of approximately 20,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2016.

UCLA did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.

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