Shared statement on climate action

March 1, 2016

Over the course of many productive conversations during the last few months, Maria Zuber, MIT’s Vice President for Research, and members of the student-led group Fossil Free MIT (FFMIT) have discussed their shared interests with respect to accelerating solutions to the urgent problem of global climate change.

The conversations arose from concerns articulated by FFMIT on three issues: the trajectory of campus carbon emissions reduction; investments in fossil fuel companies through MIT’s endowment; and the role of disinformation in hindering action in the global debate over climate change. Vice President Zuber has listened to these concerns, described some of the infrastructural challenges associated with decarbonizing campus energy generation, reinforced the senior MIT administration’s belief in a strategy of constructive engagement with industry, and reiterated its support for providing accurate, high-quality information on climate change to the public.

Based on these conversations, Vice President Zuber and FFMIT have identified four areas for building upon and enhancing MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change, released in October 2015. As MIT’s Vice President for Research, Professor Zuber has oversight responsibility for the plan. She and FFMIT intend to work jointly to bring these four ideas to fruition.

First, the MIT senior administration and FFMIT agree that the campus carbon emissions reduction goal included in the plan – a 32% reduction by 2030 – is a floor, not a ceiling. As MIT’s Office of Sustainability has articulated, the campus aspires to carbon neutrality as soon as possible. The Office of Sustainability, which recently published MIT’s first campus greenhouse gas inventory, has challenged the community to advance solutions to help achieve this goal, and intends to report yearly on progress.

Second, Vice President Zuber will establish and chair a climate action advisory committee to advise and consult with her on the implementation and ongoing assessment of MIT’s Plan for Action. The committee’s membership will include faculty, students, postdocs, staff, Corporation members and alumni who wish to engage in the process in an open, collaborative way, inviting implementation ideas from across the MIT community and bringing to bear the full depth and breadth of the MIT community’s talent, experience, expertise, and creativity.

Third, because a strategy of engagement with industry, government, and other institutions lies at the core of MIT’s Plan for Action on Climate Change, the new climate action advisory committee will provide advice to identify, develop, and publish engagement strategies and benchmarks. Benchmarks will include inputs and activities, such as number of meetings held, in addition to outcomes aligned with a 2°C future: for example, these may include steps taken by industry to develop and implement 2°C business strategies and to support a 2°C public policy framework. The committee will also provide advice and input on an annual report to be produced by the Office of the Vice President for Research to assess MIT’s progress in implementing the Plan for Action and engagement partners’ response to the climate challenge.

Fourth, working with students, faculty, staff, alumni and partners, Vice President Zuber will convene a forum to explore ethical dimensions of the climate issue. The forum will seek to shed light on critical questions like the ethical responsibilities confronting all stakeholders – countries, industries, companies, shareholders, institutions, individuals, and different generations – if we are to limit the increase in average global temperatures to 2°C over pre-industrial levels, as well as the ethical dimensions of climate change communication.