Faust: Step up on climate change

Harvard gazette
October 20, 2015

At State Department forum, she says universities must play key role in developing solutions to global problem

Octo­ber 20, 2015 | Edi­tor’s Pick Pop­u­lar

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Speak­ing at a State Depart­ment forum on Tues­day, Har­vard Pres­i­dent Drew Faust said that uni­ver­si­ties can and must play a key role in devel­op­ing solu­tions to cli­mate change, cit­ing the research, teach­ing, and con­ven­ing strengths of research institutions.

Open­ing the two-day Cli­mate and Clean Ener­gy Invest­ment Forum, Sec­re­tary of State John Ker­ry called con­fronting cli­mate change “per­haps the defin­ing issue of our gen­er­a­tion,” set­ting the stage for a series of dis­cus­sions among investors, cor­po­ra­tions, phil­an­thropies, uni­ver­si­ties, and pol­i­cy­mak­ers only weeks before the Unit­ed Nations Con­fer­ence on Cli­mate Change, which kicks off in Paris on Nov. 30.

Faust set out some impor­tant ways in which uni­ver­si­ties will con­tribute to efforts to deal with cli­mate change, as part of a pan­el on “Inno­v­a­tive Mod­els for Cli­mate Solu­tions.” Cit­ing research efforts to devel­op new and more-effi­cient bat­ter­ies and to con­vert solar ener­gy into hydro­gen with help from a bion­ic leaf, she high­light­ed a focus on discovery.

Uni­ver­si­ties con­tribute an extra­or­di­nary depth and breadth of exper­tise, a com­mit­ment to dri­ving dis­cov­ery and inno­va­tion, and a con­vic­tion that the world can be changed by ideas and dis­cov­er­ies,” said Faust.

As con­ven­ers and col­lab­o­ra­tors, said Faust, uni­ver­si­ties also bring peo­ple togeth­er and spawn new ideas on the issue, “across nation­al bor­ders, across dis­ci­plines, and across generations.”

She also rein­forced the cen­tral role of uni­ver­si­ties as edu­ca­tors, “prepar­ing new gen­er­a­tions of lead­ers to ask and answer the big ques­tions, bet­ter equipped to grap­ple with the com­plex dis­rup­tion of cli­mate change, and a world more inter­de­pen­dent than ever before as we seek solutions.”

At Har­vard, 243 cours­es are offered on ener­gy, sus­tain­abil­i­ty, or the environment.

Harvard’s pres­i­dent appeared on the pan­el a week after the announce­ment of a new, mul­ti­year, $3.75 mil­lion grant to sup­port research efforts on cli­mate change and China’s issues with it. Har­vard also launched the Uni­ver­si­ty-wide Cli­mate Change Solu­tions Fund in 2014, and in Jan­u­ary 2015 issued its first sev­en awards.

Through­out her remarks, Faust not­ed the com­plex­i­ty of the issue, and the impor­tance of a mul­ti­fac­eted approach to tack­ling it.

Uni­ver­si­ties, per­haps more than any oth­er insti­tu­tions, have the remark­able pow­er to con­vene indi­vid­u­als and insti­tu­tions around issues that tran­scend bound­aries — bound­aries that have shaped, and in some ways lim­it­ed, our ways of think­ing,” she said. “Cli­mate change is a busi­ness issue, a pol­i­cy issue, and a pub­lic health issue. It is a chal­lenge for engi­neers and sci­en­tists, inno­va­tors and investors, for archi­tects, design­ers, econ­o­mists, and his­to­ri­ans. It is vast and con­se­quen­tial — and, in its stun­ning diver­si­ty, demands our best effort to work togeth­er in new ways.”

Join­ing Faust on the pan­el, mod­er­at­ed by Andrew Steer, pres­i­dent and CEO of the World Resources Insti­tute, were Nan­cy Pfund, man­ag­ing part­ner at DBL Investors; Glenn Prick­ett, chief exter­nal affairs offi­cer of The Nature Con­ser­van­cy; Afsaneh Mashayekhi Beschloss, pres­i­dent and CEO of The Rock Creek Group; and Peter W. David­son, co-founder and CEO of Aligned Intermediary.

Pfund and Beschloss not­ed the impor­tance of antic­i­pat­ing and plan­ning for the effects of cli­mate change, espe­cial­ly among investors and busi­ness­es. Prick­ett high­light­ed the role of nature itself as a solu­tion to cli­mate change.

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