The MIT Industrial Liaison Program (ILP) defines sustainability as “the capacity to endure – to consume, grow, and thrive—but not to be consumed and perish in the process.” On March 9, 2021, The ILP held a webinar on sustainability research at MIT, an Institute-wide endeavor that spans materials science, energy, recycling, economic policy, urban planning and other fields.
A key contributor to MIT’s sustainability research portfolio is the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, which since 1991 has pursued research that enables decision-makers to address three widely recognized pillars of sustainability: environmental protection, economic viability and social equity. To that end, the Joint Program’s team of Earth scientists and economists use state-of-the-art computer models to perform integrated assessments of co-evolving Earth and human systems under different scenarios. Much of the Program’s work explores pathways to a low-carbon future in which all three sustainability pillars are strengthened.
In a presentation at the March 9 ILP webinar, MIT Joint Program Deputy Director Sergey Paltsev shared highlights of the Program’s sustainability research.
“We address global and regional change (including climate change), population growth, urban-area expansion, and the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of fossil-based development,” said Paltsev, who also serves as a senior research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative and MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy, and directs the MIT Energy at Scale Center. “The most significant global challenge is the need to satisfy growing energy and food demands while simultaneously achieving very significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to ensure sustainable development.”
Toward that end, the MIT Joint Program is conducting research that integrates risk management with policy and industrial strategies, engaging with decision-makers, and educating the next generation of global and regional change experts. In a nutshell, the Program provides community, government and industry leaders with the insights they need to ensure sustainable environmental, economic and social development.
As the world decarbonizes its economies to avert the worst impacts of climate change, decision-makers must make strategic choices that address both physical and transition risks, which both affect sustainable development. Physical risks refer to damage from extreme events such as fires, floods, droughts and sea-level rise; transition risks refer to financially consequential shifts in political, technological, social and economic landscapes in the transition to a low-carbon future. To support decision-makers in quantifying these risks, the Joint Program is developing and maintaining expertise and tools that integrate across systems, sectors and scales. These tools help to expand sustainable decision-making for policymakers, industrial energy companies, the financial community and NGOs.
With that goal in mind, the Program is currently:
- Developing a triage tool to provide indices of multiple environmental and human stressors that pinpoint significant threats to managed resources, infrastructure and other critical assets.
- Using its global, multi-regional, multi-sectoral Economic Projection and Policy Analysis (EPPA) model to systematically analyze emissions pathways consistent with keeping global warming below 1.5°C, a long-term goal of the Paris Agreement. Such analyses enable decision-makers in developed and developing countries alike to carefully assess the feasibility, costs and benefits of different proposed climate mitigation technologies and policies.
- Applying the EPPA model to perform scenario analyses that enable organizations to assess and manage physical and transition risks.
“The key to organizational success is to quantify and report emissions, actively engage in risk assessment and management, and identify opportunities for value creation,” said Paltsev. “This will allow decision-makers to be ahead of the game, and to look for opportunities for sustainable growth.”
Photo: Sergey Paltsev is deputy director of the MIT Joint Program, senior research scientist at the MIT Energy Initiative and MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), and director of the Energy at Scale Center. (Source: MIT/ILP)