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A Time for Taking Action: Recommitting to solutions-oriented research

Chris Field

Sep 28, 2021


It is hard to imagine a more exciting time to be working in the climate and sustainability space. In every country, preparations for COP26 in Glasgow put climate ambitions in the spotlight of the international press. In parallel, a horrific stream of climate-related extreme events is impacting lives and livelihoods around the world. Closer to home, progress on Stanford’s new school focused on climate and sustainability is moving forward at an ambitious pace, with key aspects of the philosophy and structure rapidly emerging from the mists of early stage planning.

I am especially encouraged to see these major threads interact. The rapid succession of climate-related extremes, from fires in California to floods across the Eastern U.S., to unprecedented heat in the Northwest, starkly warn of the need for accelerated action. To an extent we have not seen before, those warnings are being met with large commitments across society, from the private sector to national governments. Seventy-six percent of Fortune 500 companies now have at least one climate commitment, and 63 companies have targets verified as consistent with limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius. At the UN General Assembly last week, President Biden announced a new initiative allocating $11.4 billion from the U.S. to assist developing countries with building climate resilience.  President Xi of China announced an end to building coal-fired power plants in other countries. Across the full spectrum of actors, the need for actionable scholarship is clear. Stanford’s new school will go a long way toward addressing that need, with contributions that range from clarifying future risks to delivering new technologies for emissions-free energy.

In the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, we have always focused on solutions-oriented projects to support action on climate and sustainability. The pandemic forced us to make adjustments in the work’s where and how, but not the why. And to the great credit of the dedication and creativity of the Woods community, the pandemic has not had significant impacts on the overall pace of the work. This month’s newsletter describes exciting progress in three major areas. The Blue Foods Assessment is an ambitious partnership, led by the Center for Ocean Solutions, to quantify the present and potential contributions of oceans to global food security. The Stanford-led hydropower Uncommon Dialogue is the foundation for the transformational approach to improving or removing dams in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. And the program on Water, Health and Development has made huge strides in ensuring resilience in rural water supplies in many parts of the world.

Of course, lots more work is ongoing or just getting started. Among the topics we look forward to addressing in future newsletters is a series of new projects, funded jointly by the Precourt Institute for Energy and the Woods Institute for the Environment, on re-inventing plastics to facilitate recycling and decrease their environmental impact.

Over the next year, we will be working hard across a broad array of solutions-oriented research, while we also work hard to help create a cutting-edge new school focused on climate and sustainability.

Contact Information

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Associate Director, Communications

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Communications Manager

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Editor / Senior Writer