State of the Planet

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Professor Jeffrey Sachs Extends Term as Director of the Earth Institute

The Earth Institute, Columbia University announced that Professor Jeffrey Sachs has agreed to extend his term as its director. Since his tenure began in 2002, Sachs has led the Earth Institute to become a leading scientific authority on sustainable development while simultaneously expanding its reach worldwide. Through his guidance, the Earth Institute and its scientists and researchers have consistently been at the forefront of efforts to help solve some the greatest challenges our world faces today in climate change, global poverty, energy, health, food and water security, natural hazards and economic crises.

Professor Sachs has also forged an increasingly prominent role for academic leaders in policy and program work throughout the world including on large-scale poverty eradication projects, in science and technology-based solutions for sustainable development, and through the creation of a global community of sustainable development thought leaders and practitioners in academia.

Recognized worldwide as a leading figure on sustainable development and economics, Sachs’ advisement is sought out by global leaders, governments, and the United Nations. Sachs leads a team of experts counseling the Nigerian government on their development strategy, and advises a number of other governments including Timor Leste, Haiti, China, Mali, Kenya and Ethiopia. Sachs is uniquely positioned on the world stage to lead the research, teaching and policy advocacy work of the Earth Institute.

During Sachs’ tenure, the Earth Institute has significantly grown its programs both at home and abroad—increasing the number of major research units from six to fifteen, adding seven academic programs, and more than tripling the membership of the Earth Institute faculty to nearly 40 experts. Examples of new and expanded initiatives include:

  • Sustainable development education programs, including an undergraduate major in sustainable development; master’s level programs in sustainability management, climate and society and development practice; and a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development.
  • Interdisciplinary research centers focusing on climate, water and energy, as well as a center to integrate work in public health and economic development.
  • The Millennium Villages project (MVP) in Africa, an interdisciplinary practical research project demonstrating that the Millennium Development Goals can be achieved with an integrated package of scientifically proven development interventions.
  • Millennium Development Goal research centers in Kenya, Mali and Ethiopia to provide national-level policy support and advisory services to scale up MDG-related interventions to the district and national level.
  • A post-doctoral fellowship program to help scholars build a deeper foundation in their core discipline while gaining cross-disciplinary expertise to address critical issues related to sustainable development.
  • Meetings and events with global participation, such as the biennial State of the Planet conference, which brings together the world’s most influential and innovative thinkers and leaders in a wide range of fields to a global audience to discuss critical issues facing the world.
  • Providing important advisement to establish the Columbia University Global Centers in Jordan, India and China, and providing ongoing leadership for implementation research and advocacy projects being conducted at each.

“Since its founding, the Earth Institute has been a dynamic center of engagement for Columbia University’s interdisciplinary research on a wide range of environmental and economic challenges facing our increasingly global society,” said President Lee Bollinger.  “Under Jeff’s continued leadership as the Institute’s director, Columbia will remain a pioneer in translating scientific discovery into practical solutions on issues as diverse as climate change and sustainable development, ecological threats and natural disasters, clean energy and clean water, poverty and urbanization. This is an essential part of the public service mission of a great research university.”

The Earth Institute also announced the extension of its fundraising Capital Campaign from $200 million to $300 million. Under the leadership of Jeff Sachs, the Earth Institute has fostered remarkable philanthropic partnerships; garnering nearly $19M more in private support per year than before he began leading the Earth Institute. Transformative gifts and grants include:

  • $28M from the Lenfest Foundation and H.F. (Gerry) and Marguerite Lenfest to support programming and endowment for climate change research, sustainable development and poverty reduction.
  • $20M from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop science- and policy-based solutions to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
  • $18M from the Gary C. Comer and the Comer Science and Education Foundation to construct a new building to allow the Observatory’s world-class scientists to conduct ground-breaking research to address the most pressing questions about the Earth and its environment.
  • More than $15M in gifts from Sue and Bill Gross to bolster the work of the Millennium Villages project.
  • $6M from the PepsiCo Foundation to improve water sustainability and livelihood outcomes in India, China, Africa and Brazil.

Private sector engagement is increasingly important to the Earth Institute’s efforts towards creating the most effective collaborations in the search for solutions to address global sustainability challenges. These collaborations include a partnership with the Aditya Birla Group to launch a new Global Center in India, which serves as one of several University hubs for scholarship and research around the world. In the MVP sites in Africa, JM Eagle has supported applied research and installed a new water infrastructure system, and Ericsson helped to connect all 14 African MVP sites with mobile technology, among other critical projects. With Professor Sachs’ leadership, the Earth Institute has also created engagement opportunities to help corporations take advantage of the latest information, tools and networks in the field to help advance shared sustainable development objectives.

This announcement comes as the Earth Institute expands its $200 million fundraising campaign to raise an additional $100 million by December 2013, having met the original campaign goal nearly one year ahead of schedule. The Earth Institute fundraising effort is part of the larger Columbia University campaign, which aims to raise $5 billion for University initiatives, including financial aid, faculty and facilities by the same date. Among the Earth Institute’s top campaign priorities are: endowment for faculty, research and student financial aid, to secure the stable future of the Earth Institute and continuation of its pioneering work; support for facilities to remain on the cutting-edge of research; and current use funding to address today’s most pressing challenges.

Momentum to meet the Institute’s expanded campaign goal is propelled by a recent $10 million gift from Sue and Bill Gross to support the Millennium Villages project. The gift will allow Professor Sachs and his team to conduct strategic research to help sub-Saharan Africa meet the MDGs. “The work of the Millennium Villages project in sub-Saharan Africa is inspiring, especially in mobile health technology,” said Sue and Bill Gross. “We are thrilled that our gift is helping kick off the expansion of the Earth Institute’s campaign and know that with Jeff’s commitment, this will continue to be a good investment for humanity.”

The expanded $300 million campaign will enrich the Earth Institute’s research and education initiatives and programs that are achieving sustainable development, ensuring the wellbeing of humanity and the planet for generations to come.

Jeffrey D. Sachs is the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is also Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and is a board member of the UN Digital Health Initiative. He serves as the Chair of the International Advisory Panel on the National Rural Health Mission to India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, among other roles. He is the author of the best-sellers, The End of Poverty and Commonwealth, was named one of Time’s 100 most influential leaders in 2004 and 2005 and is viewed as one of most influential economists of the last decade by prominent peer economists. Sachs is the recipient of 19 doctorates, 20 honorary degrees and  many additional awards and honors, including membership in the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Society of Fellows, and the Fellows of the World Econometric Society. In 2007, he received the Cardozo Journal of Conflict Resolution International Advocate for Peace Award and was also awarded the Padma Bhushan, a high civilian honor bestowed by the Indian Government. He is also the 2005 recipient of the Sargent Shriver Award for Equal Justice. He is a member of the Brookings Panel of Economists, the Board of Advisors of the Chinese Economists Society, among other organizations. He was the First holder of the Royal Professor Ungku Aziz Chair in Poverty Studies at the Centre for Poverty and Development Studies, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur from 2007-2009.

The Earth Institute’s mission is to mobilize the sciences, education and public policy to achieve a sustainable Earth. Through interdisciplinary research among more than 500 scientists in diverse fields, the Institute is adding to the knowledge necessary for addressing the challenges of the 21st century and beyond. With over two dozen associated degree curricula and a vibrant fellowship program, the Earth Institute is educating new leaders to become professionals and scholars in the growing field of sustainable development. We work alongside governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals to devise innovative strategies to protect the future of our planet.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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