How We’re Advancing Sustainability

The Joint Program is a key contributor to MIT's sustainability research portfolio. Since 1991 the Program 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.

Comprehensive analyses of global and regional change

We address global and regional change (including climate change), population growth, urban‑area expansion, and the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of fossil‑based development. 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. Through its research in seven overlapping focus areas, the Program provides community, government and industry leaders with the insights they need to ensure sustainable environmental, economic and social development.

Decision support to navigate the energy transition

As the world decarbonizes its economies to avert the worst impacts of climate change, decision‑makers must make strategic choices that address both physical risks (damage from extreme events such as fires, floods, droughts and sea-level rise) and transition risks (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.

The key to organizational success is to quantify and report emissions, actively engage in risk assessment and management, and identify opportunities for value creation. This will allow decision‑makers to be ahead of the game, and to look for opportunities for sustainable growth.

Some current projects

  • 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 2°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.


Photo: Apollo 8 Earthrise. This photo has long inspired efforts to advance sustainability around the globe. (Source: NASA)
Photo: Apollo 8 Earthrise. This photo has long inspired efforts to advance sustainability around the globe. (Source: NASA)