$200 Million Gift Underwrites Climate and Sustainability Institute
An academic year that began with the appointment of environmental economist James Stock as the University’s new vice provost for climate and sustainability is drawing to a close with the announcement today of a $200 million gift to underwrite Harvard research and teaching in the field. Stock will lead the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability, named for the donors, Melanie and Jean Eric Salata. Jean Salata is chief executive and founding partner of Baring Private Equity Asia. He took the firm private in a management buyout in 2000, according to the Global Private Capital Association; the firm, which manages $37 billion in assets, according to Forbes, is now in the process of merging with another global private-equity firm, EQT, in a transaction valued at $7.5 billion. Neither Salata has a prior Harvard connection.
According to the University announcement, the institute’s mission is to “develop and promote durable, effective, and equitable solutions to the climate change challenges confronting humanity.” In the announcement, President Lawrence S. Bacow said the institute “represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle the climate crisis by leveraging and unifying Harvard’s strengths. It will draw together expertise from across the University in ways we’ve only just begun to imagine.” It will do so, according to the announcement, by supporting research on climate, sustainability, and the transition to low-and zero-carbon energy; training students; and enabling Harvard to recruit and support faculty members working on climate change.
One research initiative is the faculty-led Climate Research Clusters Program. The clusters, as described on the vice provost’s website, are multidisciplinary collaborations focused on applied research, yielding “concrete proposal[s] to address an aspect of the climate crisis,” by honing in on “climate problems that are narrow enough to ensure that concrete solutions emerge, but broad enough that the solutions represent significant progress in meeting the world’s climate challenge.” Each aims to include faculty members, postdoctoral fellows, and students, and they may also include visiting scholars or practitioners and other external collaborators. Each is eligible for $600,000 of funding annually, for up to three years. Initial proposals were due May 20, and, according to today’s announcement, 41 brief “concept proposals” are under consideration. Up to five will be selected in this fall’s round of funding (more in future rounds), with the initial clusters’ research work beginning next January.
Medium-sized grants for individuals or small teams, established in 2014 as part of the Climate Change Solutions Fund (recently funded projects are described here), will continue under the mandate of the Salata Institute. And smaller grants, designed to allow a faculty member to hire a climate-focused researcher or graduate student, develop a new course, or learn about climate issues in his or her field, for instance, will also be available as a result of the gift.
“This very generous gift will provide the backbone for the Institute,” said Stock in an interview, “and allow us to move forward on the substantial ambitions that we have for research, education, and engagement in climate across the entire University.” Led by faculty, the institute will be structured “so that the entire University community has ownership.” This spring, a cross-school Climate Education Committee began developing recommendations for climate education initiatives, including both internal and externally-facing programs, several of which are expected to become part of the new Institute’s mandate. The committee’s report is pending.
Across the institute’s work—which as described depends on faculty members’ interests and proposals, rather than an overarching definition of areas of focus prescribed at the vice provost’s level—it will pursue “external engagement of climate leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to ensure Harvard’s cutting-edge climate research is translated into actionable solutions,” according to today’s announcement. On campus, the institute will support schools’ course development on climate and sustainability; promote opportunities for student internships and research opportunities (including augmenting the activities of the Harvard University Center for the Environment); and aim to connect students to alumni active in the field. It will also serve as “a hub and connection point for the many existing climate-related programs and initiatives across the University.”
“Climate change is one of the most pressing issues of our time. It is a crisis whose impact will affect our children and many generations to come, and we have a responsibility to them to do everything we can to address it,” said Melanie and Jean Eric Salata in a statement in today’s announcement. “Through initiatives like the one we are announcing today, and many others like it globally, we can harness the power of the world’s best researchers and most talented policy and business leaders to create a more sustainable future for all of us.”
In the announcement, Stock said, “This is a momentous step for Harvard’s efforts in climate and sustainability. The Salata Institute will be the key institutional structure driving the University’s goals in climate: to increase research, education, and public engagement that makes a real difference in tackling the climate crisis. Climate change has so many facets, from ever-worsening physical consequences, to harms to human health and ecosystems, to the economics, law, politics, and engineering of the enormous but necessary transition to a net-zero emissions economy, to the changes to society wrought by climate change and the energy transition. With its current strengths, international convening power, and great potential, Harvard has a unique responsibility to lead in addressing these challenges. The Salata Institute will empower Harvard to get on with this difficult but essential work.” Having organized the effort from its inception last fall, he said, “I am thrilled, and deeply grateful, that Jean and Melanie have turned to Harvard to help make this lasting commitment at a time when the world needs it most.”