Skip to main content

Harvard’s Climate Change Efforts

Cambridge, Mass.

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

A year ago, I announced that we had achieved our goal of reducing the University’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent from 2006 levels, inclusive of growth. A common purpose brought our community together in exciting new ways that enabled us to meet our ambitious goal.

Since that time, however, we have continued to witness the detrimental effects of climate change here in the United States and around the world. We have also seen an elevation of baseless skepticism of science—of the facts it generates and the value it produces—in our public discourse, and research essential to human progress has come under assault. The expansion and perpetuation of knowledge seems, for the first time in my lifetime, to be something that none of us can take for granted.

Harvard must remain vigorous in championing ideas, expertise, and action related to climate change, and in supporting students, faculty, and staff who are working to shape the future for all of us. Today, we mark the beginning of the next phase of the University’s climate commitment with the release of a new climate action plan detailed below.

Based on the recommendations of the Climate Change Task Force, co-chaired by William C. Clark, Harvey Brooks Professor of International Science, Public Policy, and Human Development at the Harvard Kennedy School; Rebecca M. Henderson, John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard Business School; and Katie Lapp, Executive Vice President, Harvard will seek to become fossil fuel free by 2050 by meeting our energy needs with sustainable sources and by setting targets for purchasing externally provided services that rely as little as possible on fossil fuels. As we work toward this target, we will strive to become fossil fuel neutral by 2026, continuing to pursue aggressive reductions in our own fossil fuel emissions and, where feasible, to invest in high-quality, off-campus projects that displace comparable amounts of emissions for any emissions that remain. These ambitious goals will be challenging to reach, but the grave risks climate change poses to our health and our planet’s future require essential action. 

Achieving these aspirations will require partnership, collaboration, and sustained engagement from all members of our community. The University will take the following steps over the next several months to advance these goals: 

  • Strengthen and expand our living lab research initiative, bringing together multi-disciplinary teams of students and faculty on our campus and in neighboring communities to pilot innovative and creative solutions to the climate crisis.

  • Appoint a new Sustainability Executive Committee composed of faculty, administrators, and students to administer the University’s fossil fuel emissions-reduction strategy and to provide periodic reviews of progress related to our short- and long-term sustainability goals. The Office for Sustainability will support the work of the Committee, continuing its strategic role as a University-wide resource to Harvard’s Schools and departments.

  • Undertake a strategic planning process led by Executive Vice President Katie Lapp and Vice President for Campus Services Meredith Weenick with input from Harvard’s Schools to address the ways in which the University can further reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in centrally managed areas, such as electricity procurement, transportation, district energy supply, and capital planning.

  • Convene University stakeholders in cross-disciplinary working groups tasked with research and recommendations on key areas including adoption of additional cost-effective energy-efficiency and emissions-reduction opportunities on our own campus, development of a carbon price or surcharge on on-campus fossil fuel energy use, evaluation criteria for high-quality off-site emissions-reduction projects, and guidance for addressing Harvard’s Scope 3 emissions.

We will also continue to fund important research taking place across the University that will be essential to addressing climate change. The Climate Change Solutions Fund, created in 2014 to hasten the transition toward cleaner, renewable energy sources, has already awarded nearly $4 million in support of 31 multi-disciplinary climate research projects. We have provided $7.7 million in funding for ten projects involving 20 faculty studying climate change and the environment through the Harvard Global Institute, launched in 2015 to support international engagement on pressing global challenges.

Our community is also leveraging the creative arts and humanities, as well as public health research, to help us understand the broader social and environmental consequences of climate change.

The University’s commitment to addressing climate change is broad and unwavering. But we must also recognize that our progress and planning will require agility, continual assessment, and adaptation as we react to new research, as well as technical and market developments in the months and years ahead. Harvard’s climate action plan will thus include a comprehensive review process to assess our progress and sharpen our objectives at four-year intervals.

The complexity of climate change requires humility, flexibility, and long-term thinking. I am grateful to the co-chairs and to the members of the Task Force for their thoughtful recommendations and for the ways in which they have identified key areas that merit further investigation. Institutional action and commitment have never been more necessary or more urgent. Harvard can—and will—serve as a model and fulfill its obligation to the future.

Drew Faust