Letter from the Director of the Earth Institute

Sustainable development is the central drama of our time. It signifies a holistic approach to policy that simultaneously embraces three objectives: economic development, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability. Our crowded planet is home to 7.3 billion people who seek a better life and a place of well-being and dignity in the world economy. The global economy is producing significant growth and an overall decline of poverty, but also widening inequality, a loss of trust within communities, pervasive corruption, and massive and so-far-unchecked environmental crises. The challenge of sustainable development is to promote the good progress in cutting poverty and raising incomes, while bolstering social equality and community, and protecting the environment from human-caused destruction.

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director

Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director

Finding solutions to this unprecedented challenge of combining economic, social, and environmental goals is the primary purpose of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The Earth Institute is one of the world’s leading and most renowned centers for the integrated study of global dynamics, cutting across economics, social change, public policy, and Earth systems sciences including climate change, oceanography, geology, and other Earth sciences. Its research and education programs span some 30 interdisciplinary research units with around 850 scientists, postdoctoral fellows, staff, and students. The Earth Institute’s scientists and policy experts work tirelessly to identify and understand key challenges, test solutions, and propagate world-class, cutting-edge knowledge. Its educational programs are second to none in the world, and in many cases, are pioneering courses that are being widely emulated by universities around the world. When other universities want to establish their own cross-disciplinary initiatives in sustainable development, they invariably look to the Earth Institute for guidance, lessons, and advice.

The design and implementation of sustainable development solutions require a new generation of professionals who are trained in the concepts of sustainable development as well as the practical skills of policy design, management, and implementation. I am delighted to say that the Earth Institute’s innovative teaching programs, such as the undergraduate major, the master’s of development practice, and the PhD in sustainable development, have all been pioneering programs with great global renown. We are turning out some of the brightest and best young leaders in the field worldwide.

The Earth Institute also plays a world-leading academic role in the global discussions around the fate of our planet. The 193 UN member states will soon adopt new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as guideposts for the world’s hopes for sustainable development. The Earth Institute is hosting a crucial global effort, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN), under the auspices of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in order to mobilize hundreds of universities, think tanks, and technology companies to work on practical solutions for sustainable development. The UN SDSN is playing a leadershp role in helping the UN to define the SDGs, create a road map to achieve them, and then to implement the new SDGs at the local, national, and regional levels around the world. In addition, both the SDSN and the Earth Institute are playing pivotal analytical roles in helping negotiate a meaningful global climate change agreement in 2015. In all of this work, the Earth Institute mobilizes scientific, technical, and programmatic expertise from academia, government, civil society, and the private sector, working across all major segments of society to help forge a new consensus on how to tackle the great and pressing global challenges.

This annual report includes a selection of the Earth Institute’s programs, research, and advisory efforts to highlight the remarkable excellence of the work across the Earth Institute to develop the science and solutions necessary to achieve sustainable development. The report also demonstrates how this huge and ambitious effort is made possible by the dedication and generous support of an engaged and passionate community of partners and funders. To all who have played a role in creating and sustaining the Earth Institute’s program for achieving for a prosperous, inclusive, and sustainable future, please accept my deepest gratitude. This is a time of urgency, and I hope that my colleagues and I may count on you for your continued partnership and generous support of the remarkable work of the Earth Institute. Please enjoy this Annual Report.

I hope to see you in the coming year.

With appreciation and best wishes,

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