MIT's climate action plan for the decade

May 12, 2021

To the members of the MIT community:

In the fall of 2015, we announced MIT's first climate action plan. Today, building on that five-year vision, we share a new plan that mobilizes MIT’s strengths to address this accelerating crisis: Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade.

You can find the highlights on MIT News.

The plan is guiding our actions already. At the same time, it is a living document, and we welcome your thoughts. Please email fastforwardclimate@mit.edu.

The challenge

The challenge, in broad strokes: Humanity must find affordable, equitable ways to bring every sector of the global economy to net-zero carbon emissions no later than 2050. At the same time, as a species, we must adapt to effects of climate change we can’t prevent, taking special care for those with the fewest resources, who have contributed least to the problem but are likely to be hurt first and worst.

To do all that in less than 30 years, we need to pursue two tracks simultaneously – and at fast-forward speed:

  • On track one, we must go as far as we can, as fast as we can, with the tools and methods we have now. These include science, technology, policy, markets, infrastructure, and levers for behavioral and cultural change. As one example, the new federal commitment to cut emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2030 will likely spur powerful incentives for industries, institutions, and individuals to leap towards change. All of us can be part of track one, right now.
  • On track two, societies around the world need to invest in, invent, and deploy new tools – and promote the new institutions and policies, tuned to each region, that it will take to reach the 2050 goal.
    Ultimate success depends on breakthroughs. Current tools alone will not get us to the target.
     

At the same time, it will be crucial to educate and empower the members of the next generation, as they will inherit the impacts of this problem and the ongoing challenge of solving it.

In all these areas, MIT is in an extraordinary position to make a difference – and to set a standard of climate leadership. With this plan, we commit to a coordinated set of leadership actions to spur innovation, accelerate action, and deliver practical impact.

With gratitude and admiration

In sharing this plan, we offer two profound thank-yous:

  • First, to the hundreds of MIT faculty, postdocs, staff, alumni, and students who have, for the past five years and often much longer, devoted themselves to every aspect of the climate challenge. Together, they have given us a far more precise and predictive understanding of Earth’s climate, advanced important new ideas for wringing carbon out of the global economy, enriched MIT’s climate and energy curriculum, created award-winning ways to explain the climate crisis to general audiences, and reduced MIT’s carbon footprint while the campus continued to grow.
  • Second, we are indebted to the hundreds of community members – including the student working groups that presented at the Climate Action Advisory Committee’s open meeting in February – who offered ideas and perspectives on the new plan’s vision and emphasis.
     

The work before us

Given MIT’s distinctive strengths, the work before us is to help humanity gain the tools and concepts to solve the existential problem of global warming, and the will and capacity to use them.

This plan aims to produce positive consequences for the whole human family – and we recognize that it has special significance for the generation that includes our students. Over the next 30 years, while the global population grows, the demand for higher living standards increases, and the planet continues to warm, the profound societal transformation that must take place to maintain a habitable Earth will increasingly be led by our students and their peers. They will live in the future whose qualities, for good or ill, will be shaped by actions that human beings around the world take now.

In facing this challenge, we have very high expectations for our students; we expect them to help make the impossible possible. And we owe it to them to face this crisis by coming together in a whole-of-MIT effort – deliberately, wholeheartedly, and as fast as we can.

Sincerely,

L. Rafael Reif, President

Maria T. Zuber, Vice President for Research

Richard K. Lester, Associate Provost

Anantha Chandrakasan, Dean of Engineering

Glen Shor, Executive Vice President and Treasurer