The Aspen Institute Launches an Initiative Focused on the Role of Higher Education in Advancing Climate Solutions

April 18, 2023

The Higher Ed Climate Action Task Force will develop an Action Plan to ensure institutions of higher education scale action and prepare students for success in a changing climate.


Contact: Clarke Williams

Washington, D.C., April 18 – Today the Aspen Institute’s This Is Planet Ed initiative announces the launch of Higher Ed Climate Action to unlock the full potential of higher education as a force for climate action, solutions, and environmental justice.

Building upon its work with the early years and K-12 sectors, This Is Planet Ed is ready to ensure our institutions of learning equip young people with the knowledge and skills to lead in a sustainable, resilient, and equitable world. Higher Ed Climate Action will accelerate higher education’s already impressive progress on climate action, create an overarching framework for its unique role, and identify policies to scale climate action across the sector.

The Task Force will be co-chaired by the Commissioner of Higher Education for Louisiana, Dr. Kim Hunter Reed, and the President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), Dr. Mildred García. Similar to prior work with This Is Planet Ed’s K12 Climate Action and Early Years Climate Action, the Higher Ed Climate Task Force will hold a series of public listening sessions over the next year and draft an Action Plan outlining a comprehensive framework for the sector.

“We are increasingly witnessing the impacts of climate change across the country, and across the world. Our higher education institutions need to serve the students they have, and right now, far too many students are concerned about how their futures will be shaped by climate change,” said Dr. García. “Higher education, across all types of institutions, must empower students.”

“Although the higher education sector has taken a leading role in climate research and on-campus mitigation, there remains a vast opportunity to expand its impact, including in Louisiana,” said Dr. Reed.  “Low-income rural and urban students, as well as Black, Indigenous, Latino, and other communities of color are disproportionately concerned about and impacted by climate change. By centering on the voices of communities most affected by climate change, addressing educational inequities, and prioritizing community-based solutions, higher education can help secure a more just and sustainable future for all.”

The education sector is at a critical social tipping point to contribute to the U.S. decarbonization 2050 goals, and yet colleges and universities should be more utilized in advancing climate solutions.

Currently, only a fraction of the 4,000 colleges and universities across the country have signed onto voluntary climate commitments. The higher education sector manages 210,000 buildings with 6.2 billion square feet of floor space. Recent federal investments make advancing climate solutions more affordable than ever and will create millions of jobs. With 20 million students enrolled, higher education will be pivotal in deploying solutions and preparing the clean economy workforce. Climate change will also impact issues central to higher education including student enrollment, student success, and mental health, and higher education can take steps now to adapt and build resilience.

“Colleges and universities are anchor institutions that serve as community hubs, prepare the next generation’s workforce, produce vital research, and support students in facing our most pressing challenges,” said former U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., co-chair of This Is Planet Ed and Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY). “Right now, climate change is an existential challenge and higher education must respond.”

“Climate change is an urgent threat, and its impacts are playing out in diverse and increasingly harmful ways on people and communities,” said Dan Porterfield, President and CEO of the Aspen Institute. “The Aspen Institute is supporting Individuals, institutions, and communities everywhere as they respond to this challenge with important and actionable solutions, and we’re excited to launch Higher Ed Climate Action in order to harness the power of the higher education sector and its nearly 20 million students to make meaningful progress.”

Higher Ed Climate Action consists of 20 task force members representing leaders across higher education, climate, students, philanthropy, and more. The Task Force will hold its first public listening session on May 3, 2023, from 1:00 pm ET to 2:00 pm ET. For more information, visit



About the Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

About This Is Planet Ed

This Is Planet Ed is an initiative of the Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment Program that intends to unlock the power of education as a force for climate action, climate solutions, and environmental justice to empower the rising generation to lead a sustainable, resilient, and equitable future. This Is Planet Ed works across Early Years, K-12, Higher Education, and Children’s Media to build our societal capacity to advance climate solutions. Visit


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