Updates on climate action at MIT

October 21, 2016

MIT's Plan for Action on Climate Change was released one year ago. Below are just some some of the highlights of climate action at MIT in the last year.

• Maria Zuber, MIT’s Vice President for Research, established the Climate Action Advisory Committee (CAAC) and convened it for the first time in May. The CAAC’s membership comprises Corporation members, faculty, staff, students, postdocs, and alumni. Its charge is to advise Zuber on the successful implementation of the Plan for Action on Climate Change, with a specific focus on generating ideas for engagement with industry, government, and civil society.

• Vice President Zuber and the student-led group Fossil Free MIT reached an agreement in March 2016 which brought the group's sit-in to an end. The agreement has four components: Creating the CAAC; identifying benchmarks for assessing the success of MIT’s engagement efforts; clarifying that the 32% campus carbon emissions reduction target is a floor, not a ceiling; and convening a forum on climate ethics.

• The forum on climate ethics is planned for November 17. Prof. Dale Jamieson from New York University has agreed to deliver the forum’s keynote address. The forum will aim to shed light on critical questions such as the responsibilities facing all of us – individuals and institutions – if we are to prevent an increase in average global temperatures of more than 2°C over pre-industrial values.

• MIT joined the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC) in May, becoming only the second university to do so. The CPLC is a coalition of governments, companies, and nonprofits working to advance carbon pricing globally.  

• The Climate CoLab and MIT Solve co-hosted Solve’s “Fuel” challenges. The two challenges asked: “How do we remove carbon from the atmosphere in a way that is scalable, economical, and ethical?” and “How can new technologies be used to put a price on carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases?” 

• The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) has announced new members for its Low-Carbon Energy Centers. General Electric, which moved its corporate headquarters from Connecticut to Boston this summer, also joined MITEI as a sustaining member; the company will commit a total of $7.5 million over a five-year period. MITEI also anticipates that its Utility of the Future Study will be finalized by late 2016 or early 2017.

• In April, John Fernández, the new director of the Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI), articulated a strategy for ESI focused on research, education, and convening in three domains: climate science and earth systems; cities and infrastructure; and sustainable society and economy.

• Planning for the Environment and Sustainability Minor is underway, spearheaded by ESI. The minor’s design encompasses four focus areas: Earth System and Climate Science, Environmental Governance, Engineering for Sustainability, and Environmental History and Culture. 

• With the support of alumni class funds, ESI is also working with several instructors to infuse environment and sustainability content into the General Institute Requirements, starting this academic year. These include problem sets, mini-lectures, activities, and other forms of content. ESI is working with the Teaching and Learning Lab to assess the effectiveness of this content in helping students to learn both the core and about environment and sustainability.

• The Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and two Montréal-based research institutions – HEC business school and Ouranos, a climate-change think tank – launched a new collaboration in August on energy, economy and climate policy analysis to evaluate climate policy options in the New England/Québec region.

• The Office of Digital Learning, Office of Communications, Center for Collective Intelligence, and two members of MIT Alumni for Climate Action Leadership teamed up to launch ClimateX, a new online community, on October 3. ClimateX is now in an eight-week pilot phase featuring weekly open webinars; a simple digital community tool to form groups, engage in discussions, and network ideas; and a challenge platform to propose, develop and get feedback on real climate solutions.

• MIT, Boston Medical Center, and Post Office Square Redevelopment Corporation have formed an alliance to buy electricity from a large new solar power installation, adding carbon-free energy to the grid and demonstrating a partnership model for other organizations in climate-change mitigation efforts. The agreement will enable the construction of a roughly 650-acre, 60-megawatt solar farm on farmland in North Carolina.

• In January, the Office of Sustainability released MIT’s first comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory. The office is also in the process of designing a new sustainability data hub – starting with an open data platform on campus energy usage. And the Department of Facilities has completed the first version of a shadow carbon-pricing calculator for use in capital renewal projects.

• The Office of Sustainability, in collaboration with faculty from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, is preparing an analysis of campus climate resiliency, modeling potential impacts of storm water and flooding in this century.