Overcoming the impact of climate change is the defining challenge of our time.

The effects, and the efforts to respond to them, will touch the lives of almost everyone in a direct and tangible way. Much can and must be achieved with existing technologies and policy approaches, but without game-changing advances in forefront technologies and multiple fields of science, engineering, and the social sciences, the world’s efforts to address the climate challenge will not succeed.

Our focus

Launched in 2020, MIT Climate Grand Challenges is mobilizing the MIT research community around some of the most challenging unsolved problems in adaptation, carbon removal, climate science, climate policy, human impacts, and reducing emissions. These are problems whose solutions could move the needle on the world’s climate response, and where progress depends on applications of frontier knowledge in the physical, life, and social sciences and the advancement and application of cutting-edge technologies.

An equally important goal of Climate Grand Challenges is to accelerate the impact of these developments. We are therefore working with downstream partners who seek beneficial social or environmental impact as well as financial return — companies, impact investors, and social and technological entrepreneurs, as well as governments, non-profits, and philanthropists.

Our process

A portfolio of multi-year projects will be identified over the course of a two-phase process that draws on the creativity and commitment of the MIT community:

  • Identify game-changing solutions to hard climate-related problems.
  • Assemble the integrated, focused teams needed to develop and implement these solutions rapidly.
  • Work to include partners from industry, nonprofits, governments, philanthropists, investors, and other sectors of society.

Phase I

The primary purpose of Phase I was to stimulate ideas for potentially transformative projects that are broad in scope, large in ambition, and have the potential to make major advances in solving the big problems that currently stand in the way of an effective global climate response. We received nearly 100 letters of interest from almost 400 MIT faculty members and senior researchers drawn from all five MIT schools and the college, as well as some from other research institutions.

During the fall semester, we held 16 virtual workshops, providing opportunities for the authors to discuss and refine their letters and to connect and collaborate with other PIs working in related areas.

Phase II

Based on the recommendations of the Climate Grand Challenges Faculty Review Committee, 28 teams were invited to develop comprehensive white papers that describe in detail the problem area, its significance, and a plan for achieving a solution. As appropriate, these papers also describe plans for accelerated innovation and/or broad societal uptake. The white paper leads were encouraged to continue building the teams needed to define and execute on these plans.

The white papers will be reviewed by panels of prominent international experts in the relevant scientific and technical domains and in processes and policies for innovation and societal take-up. The reviewers will include research leaders in the natural, physical, social and management sciences, the humanities, and engineering, as well as leaders in the public policy domain and practitioners with successful track records in commercializing environmental and energy technologies and/or in mobilizing stakeholder groups around social goods and goals. After completion of these reviews, a portfolio of flagship Grand Challenges research projects will be selected.

Faculty Review Committee

The planning and selection processes were overseen by a faculty committee consisting of research leaders from all five of MIT’s schools and the Schwarzman College of Computing as well as participating Institute-wide units. The committee is advisory to the associate provost for international activities and the vice president for research.

Phase 1

Robert Armstrong | School of Engineering | Chemical Engineering
Steven Barrett | School of Engineering | Aeronautics and Astronautics
Angela Belcher | School of Engineering | Bioengineering
Vladimir Bulovic | School of Engineering | Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
John Deutch* | School of Science | Chemistry
Mircea Dinca* | School of Science | Chemistry
Esther Duflo | School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences | Economics
Elfatih Eltahir | School of Engineering | Civil and Environmental Engineering
Kerry Emanuel | School of Science | Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
John Fernandez | School of Architecture and Planning | Architecture
Colette Heald | School of Engineering & School of Science | Civil and Environmental Engineering & Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Pablo Jarillo-Herrero* | School of Science | Physics
Paul Joskow* | School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences | Economics
Christopher Knittel | Sloan School of Management
Tom Malone* | Sloan School of Management
Jacquin Niles* | School of Engineering | Bioengineering
Elsa Olivetti* | School of Engineering | Materials Science and Engineering
Harriet Ritvo* | School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences | History
Ronald Rivest* | Schwarzman College of Computing | Electrical Engineering & Computer Science
Noelle Selin | Schwarzman College of Computing | Institute for Data, Systems, and Society
Yang Shao-Horn | School of Engineering | Mechanical Engineering
Robert van der Hilst* | School of Science | Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Anne White* | School of Engineering | Nuclear Science and Engineering
Christopher Zegras* | School of Architecture and Planning | Urban Studies and Planning

* Evaluation Subcommittee

Phase 2

Penny Chisolm | School of Science | Biology
Mircea Dinca (Co-Chair) | School of Science | Chemistry
Pablo Jarillp-Herrero | School of Science | Physics
Paul L. Joskow | School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences | Economics
Jesse Kroll (Co-Chair) | School of Engineering | School of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Thomas W. Malone | Sloan School of Management
Harriet Ritvo | School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences | History
Tavneet Suri | Sloan School of Management
Rob van der Hilst (Co-Chair) | School of Science | Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Anne E. White | School of Engineering | Nuclear Science and Engineering
Chris Zegras (Co-Chair) | School of Architecture and Planning | Urban Studies and Planning

Members of the Faculty Review Committee are eligible to submit or participate in the submission of letters of interest and, subsequently, to participate in the preparation of white papers. However, committee members who elect to participate in either phase will not participate in the relevant evaluation. Members of the committee who are not participating in letter or white paper submissions are eligible to give advice or input on prospective submissions if asked.

Climate science and solutions at MIT

Climate Grand Challenges is designed to complement and enhance the work of existing MIT units, including the MIT Energy Initiative, MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative, the departments of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Civil and Environmental Engineering, and many others.

You can learn more about these and many other climate-related activities on the MIT Climate Portal. You can also explore MIT Climate Action, MIT’s multifaceted plan to act on climate change, and the Climate and Sustainability Consortium.