Underwriting Sustainability Studies

An academic year that began with the appointment of environmental economist James Stock as the University’s new vice provost for climate and sustainability drew to a close with the June 21 announcement 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. Neither Salata has a prior Harvard connection.

According to the 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 by supporting research on climate, sustainability, and the transition to low-and zero-carbon energy; training students; and—as the program grows—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 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 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 the announcement, 41 brief “concept proposals” are under consideration. Up to five will be selected in this fall’s round of funding, with the initial clusters’ research work beginning next January.

Grants for individuals or small teams, begun in 2014 as part of the Climate Change Solutions Fund, continue under the institute’s auspices. Smaller grants—to enable a faculty member to hire a climate-focused researcher, develop a new course, or learn about climate issues in his or her field, for instance—will become 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.” Last spring, a cross-school Climate Education Committee began developing recommendations for teaching 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 the announcement. On campus, the institute will support schools’ course development on climate and sustainability; promote opportunities for student internships and research opportunities; and aim to connect students to alumni active in the field.

In the announcement, Stock said, “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.…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.”

Learn more at harvardmag.com/200-salata-climate-22.

Read more articles by John S. Rosenberg or Jonathan Shaw

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