The mission of a new university-wide initiative at Harvard University is to develop and drive effective national and international policies to reduce emissions of methane, an exceptionally important greenhouse gas, by tapping the intellectual diversity and expertise of 17 Harvard faculty members across four departments of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences plus five professional schools, blending science, engineering, economics, political science, law, business, and policy studies.
As Principal Investigator, I have the privilege and pleasure of leading this effort, which is funded by one of five inaugural grants for multi-disciplinary, solutions-focused initiatives tackling the challenges posed by global climate change, awarded by Harvard’s new Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability, as announced on February 13th. The Salata Institute got its start in June 2022, and is supported by a $200 million gift from Melanie and Jean Eric Salata, as was featured in the Institute’s opening symposium in October 2022. The other funded “research clusters” focus on: Climate Adaptation in the Gulf of Guinea; Strengthening Communities; Climate Adaptation in South Asia; and Corporate Net-Zero Targets.
Methane has a short atmospheric lifetime and very high global warming potential, compared with carbon dioxide (CO2). Therefore, methane-emissions abatement can significantly reduce concentrations, temperature, and damages, particularly in the short term. This could help give the world time to “bend the curve” on CO2 emissions, conduct research on carbon removal, and, more generally, implement longer-term strategies to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The ambitious goal of our Climate Research Cluster – “An End-to-End, Collaborative Strategy to Reduce Global Methane Emissions: Science, Engineering, Economics, Business, Policy, Law, Politics, Communications, and Action” – is to achieve meaningful and sustained progress in methane emissions reductions through research and effective engagement with key stakeholders. More specifically, we seek to deliver information that will facilitate the design and implementation of new and existing methane-emission-reduction policies and programs. Within our scope will be the major sectors from which methane is emitted, including the oil and gas sector, landfills, and agriculture.
We will conduct research, policy outreach, and public engagement along eight tracks:
- Building on satellite-based measurement and attribution of emissions;
- Identifying technologies that can best reduce emissions;
- Applying insights from economic research and decision science to design policies that can best contribute to methane-emissions reduction;
- Identifying legal and regulatory opportunities for and constraints to methane emissions reduction;
- Defining and addressing key political issues constraining attempts to reduce methane emissions;
- Defining roles that business can play in reducing methane emissions;
- Identifying key international and multilateral opportunities for and constraints to reducing methane emissions; and
- Undertaking historical examination of economic activities that result in methane emissions.
At every stage, we will facilitate frequent interactions among researchers in the various tracks, to build on synergies, advance cross-disciplinary understanding, and catalyze action. Moreover, the team is engaging policymakers in government and key leaders in business, nongovernmental organizations, and international organizations to translate science into action. Such engagement will create two-way communications with policymakers and key constituencies and stakeholders, in a manner that translates into specific actions to reduce emissions.
The engagement process entails consultations with government officials and leading stakeholders at the international, regional, national, and sub-national levels. Faculty involved in this work are also focusing on translating their research into useful materials, such as videos and written briefs, which can be used by climate practitioners in the public and non-profit sectors to design and implement new emission-reduction strategies. Through targeted work with business leaders, this effort will seek to inform emissions reduction practices in target industries.
Our team brings together the work of seventeen different research groups from across Harvard, including four departments in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (Earth and Planetary Science, Economics, Government, and History) and five professional schools (Harvard Business School, Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). Thus, the faculty involved are approaching methane-emissions research from a range of disciplinary lenses, including those of science, engineering, economics, political science, law, business, history, and policy studies, producing a comprehensive approach. By communicating and collaborating across research teams, we intend for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts, producing a holistic approach to policy solutions.
The participating faculty members include:
- Joseph Aldy, Professor of the Practice of Public Policy (HKS)
- Stephen Ansolabehere, Frank G. Thompson Professor of Government (FAS)
- Jody Freeman, Archibald Cox Professor of Law (HLS)
- Jeffry Frieden, Professor, Department of Government (FAS)
- James Hammitt, Professor of Economics and Decision Sciences (HSPH)
- Nathaniel Hendren, Professor of Economics (FAS)
- John Holdren, Teresa and John Heinz Research Professor of Environmental Policy (HKS)
- Daniel Jacob, Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry & Environmental Engineering (SEAS; FAS)
- Carrie Jenks, Executive Director, Executive Director, Environmental and Energy Law Program (HLS)
- Richard Lazarus, Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law (HLS)
- Meghan O’Sullivan, Jeane Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs (HKS)
- Forest Reinhardt, John D. Black Professor of Business Administration (HBS)
- Robert Stavins, A.J. Meyer Professor of Energy and Economic Development (HKS)
- Emma Rothschild, Jeremy and Jane Knowles Professor of History (FAS)
- Dustin Tingley, Professor of Government (FAS)
- Michael Toffel, Senator John Heinz Professor of Environmental Management (HBS)
- Steven Wofsy, A.L. Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science (SEAS; FAS)
In addition, participating as an external collaborator is Mark Brownstein, Senior Vice President, Energy Transition, Environmental Defense Fund.
This is a true soup-to-nuts initiative, because we’re going from scientific detection and estimation of methane emissions all the way to public policy and communication with the public. We are excited to launch our activities; and as the work progresses, I will do my best to keep readers of this blog up to date.