State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

New Gift Will Bolster Sustainability Research Efforts in China

As part of a generous $2 million donation to Columbia University, the Earth Institute’s Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management will receive $700,000 to expand its research efforts on sustainability in China.

Reducing emissions and promoting global environmental sustainability is a shared responsibility for all countries, but China’s contribution is particularly important. There is clearly an intense drive to bring sustainability factors into the massive national mission to grow China’s economy, and although the Chinese government has worked to establish a sustainable strategy for its development, the sheer pace of its economic growth makes it a difficult task. Led by Dr. Steven Cohen, Earth Institute executive director, Dr. Satyajit Bose, lecturer in economics and associate director of the M.S. in Sustainability Management program, and Dr. Dong Guo, associate research scholar at the Earth Institute, the Research Program on Sustainability Policy and Management has undertaken several projects over the past three years on measuring sustainability and promoting effective sustainability policies in cities and organizations in China.

The new gift will allow the research team to continue their major project developing a rating system by which the sustainability performance of Chinese cities can be compared, in collaboration with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE), a leading think tank in China. The goal of this joint project is to complement decision-making in Chinese sustainability policies, provide a unique example and model for other countries, and improve understanding of sustainable development in China and globally. The United States’ and China’s ratification of the Paris climate accord last weekend reaffirms the importance of sustainability policy at the highest levels of government in both countries. This research will help build important tools for Chinese cities to accomplish these ambitious goals. The project’s first stage of work has already resulted in the publication of a joint white paper which was released during CCIEE’s 4th Global Think Tank Summit at the end of June 2015, as well as a pilot project rating three cities in China’s Henan Province, supported by the Earth Institute’s Cross-Cutting Initiative.

In addition to this work, the research program will devote $200,000 of the gift to the creation of a new initiative on sustainability education. This new research theme arose from the recognition that learning is increasingly more essential to understanding and coming to grips with the crisis of global sustainability. The transition to a sustainable economy requires a deep understanding of the tradeoffs caused by our modern lifestyle and education at every level—in elementary schools, high schools, and colleges, and for aspiring professionals and current professionals. But what are the challenges to incorporating sustainability into current educational structures, and how does sustainability education differ in the United States and globally? To this end, Dr. Guo will lead a comparative study of sustainability education through a review of the current state of environmental education in the U.S., China, and other countries, both in the formal and informal education sectors from kindergarten to postgraduate level. The research will aim to identify gaps in knowledge, in practice, and in research among different countries.

This generous donation is part of a larger gift that will also form a Core Curriculum endowment fund for Columbia College, support Columbia College’s Annual Fund for 2016 and 2017, and support the work of Columbia’s global activities in Beijing.

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