The Net-Zero Nexus and the Crucial Role of Cross-Sector Collaborations
July 31, 2023 — Cross-sector collaboration efforts are imperative for companies, universities, and nations to achieve net-zero and other climate-related goals. University-industry partnerships can drive the innovation needed to address these complex challenges and advance toward a more sustainable future.
Global climate goals
The United Nations defines the net zero goal as cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close as possible to zero, with any remaining emissions re-absorbed from the atmosphere. The United States has stated plans to reduce emissions by 50-52% by 2030 (the United States launched the Net-Zero Government Initiative at a 2022 United Nations Climate Change conference). Other countries participating in the Net-Zero Government Initiative include Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.
Many individual organizations have pledged to reach carbon neutrality or reduce emissions as well. The Climate Pledge, a commitment to reach net zero by 2040, includes over 424 industry signatories, including UIDP members Amazon, HP, IBM, T-Mobile, GSK, Novartis, Siemens, Microsoft, PepsiCo, and VMware. Many universities have also pledged to reduce emissions; according to one study, U.S. college campuses had already reduced their emissions by more than 6% between 2005-2014.
Collaborative pathways to climate solutions
By bringing together the expertise and resources from both university and industry sectors, university-industry partnerships produce transformative ideas, advance research, and often produce innovative technology solutions. NSF’s Global Centers program supports collaborative international centers for interdisciplinary, use-inspired research on climate change and clean energy topics. BP and ExxonMobil funded Princeton University’s Net-Zero America Project, which quantifies five pathways (using current technologies) to decarbonize the U.S. economy by 2050. UIDP members UT Austin and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte are leading NSF Engines awards focused on clean energy, each with myriad industry, nonprofit, and other academic partners.
UIDP’s fall conference, UIDP Irvine, takes a deep dive into current work to achieve net zero targets. Eric Corey Freed, author and CannonDesign’s sustainability director, will present strategies that campuses are using to decarbonize. Joy Goswami from Johns Hopkins University and NSF’s Jessica Libertini will give an overview of the Global Centers program, set to announce awardees this fall. Another session will showcase the innovation ecosystem in California and efforts to achieve climate resiliency and adaptation.
Why it matters
Pre-competitive climate research is fertile ground for partnership due to its complexity. Combining expertise, resources, and perspectives from government, academia, and industry can vastly accelerate solutions to address world-scale, complex challenges; no single country, company, or university can do this alone. Intentional, strategic collaboration across sectors enables knowledge exchange, data sharing, and rapid scaling of best practices—the fastest road to net zero.
We want to hear from you. How is your institution partnering to address climate change-, sustainability-, and net-zero-focused goals? Let us know on our LinkedIn profile.