Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

Over the next three decades, Yale will funnel $15 million in funding to early stage projects aimed at fighting climate change.

The Climate Impact Innovation Fund, which was announced late last month by University officials, was financed by anonymous donors. It will operate within the Planetary Solutions Project, a University-wide initiative established in December 2020 that aims to “unite institutional leadership and academic experts” in addressing environmental problems caused by human activities. The Planetary Solutions Project has solicited a first round of new research proposals, which will be funded primarily by the Climate Impact Innovation Fund.

“The point here is that we’ve got tremendous intellectual resources,” Casey Pickett, project director of Planetary Solutions, told the News. “We have the ability to convene people around the world in positions of expertise and influence. We have this most magical thing of all these passionate and brilliant, productive people, a great many of whom are really interested in finding ways to turn their intellectual firepower onto the problems that they see, the planetary problems.”

The fund is focused on funding early-stage projects, especially those aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, improving economic climate models that can be used to develop policy and protecting human health from rapid changes in climate, Pickett said. 

The project plans to solicit proposals annually. According to the application form, the grant amounts range from $15,000 to $80,000 and will fund 12 or more proposals, depending on the number and quality of applications. In total, the program anticipates providing over $500,000 of funding for the first round of proposals.

According to Indy Burke, dean of the Yale School of the Environment, the fund will provide support for faculty and students at the School of the Environment who are working on solutions related to all aspects of climate change, ranging from carbon capture to forest restoration to urban development.

As with anything around innovation, it’s probably right to expect that a lot of these things won’t end up working,” Pickett says. “But you have a wide funnel so that you catch all the good ideas and then some end up making their way out into the world and making a huge impact. That’s the idea.”

Kai Chen, assistant professor at the Yale School of Public Health and director of research at the Yale Center on Climate Change and Public Health, emphasized the importance of Yale directing more resources to climate research. He explained that current funding for climate research, especially research concerning the intersections of climate change and health, is limited, despite a growing consensus among scientists that climate change is the “greatest public health challenge” of the 21st century.

Chen added that climate change research is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing upon knowledge from many different fields.

“Understanding the health impacts of climate change … requires multidisciplinary approaches including atmospheric science, biostatistics, environmental sciences, public health, mathematical modeling, and social sciences,” Chen wrote in an email to the News. “Yale has outstanding and diverse faculty across these multiple disciplines. With funding like the new Climate Impact Innovation Fund, collaboration with these world-class faculty across Yale can bring innovative interdisciplinary research to address climate change.”

Robert Dubrow, professor at the Yale School of Public Health and faculty director at the Yale Center on Climate Change and Public Health, viewed the decision to spend the fund within the next 30 years as wise, emphasizing that the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss must be “tackled with the utmost urgency.”

Dubrow commended the University for not only establishing the Planetary Solutions Project but also for “following through” with substantial fundraising.

“The Planetary Solutions Project focuses on the two main existential crises of our time – climate change and biodiversity loss — which are highly interrelated,” Dubrow wrote in an email to the News. “If we have not achieved net zero carbon emissions and a sustainable future by 2052, we, along with much of the rest of life on Earth, will be facing cataclysms, not mere crises.” 

Burke also noted that Yale can play a “critical role” in advancing sustainable solutions, particularly when working in partnership with other universities, nongovernmental organizations or industry sectors. She added that climate change solutions require not only science, but effective policymaking.

“We also need the participation of policy analysts, historians, sociologists, communications specialists, community and political leaders, and many others to stand a chance of success,” Burke wrote. “That, too, is where Yale — not only with our on-campus expertise, but with our remarkable network of alumni around the world — can play a vital role in helping to develop and implement these clean energy technologies, policies, and economic solutions successfully.”

Applicants to the fund are expected to be notified by March 30. 

Correction, Feb. 9: A previous version of this article said that applicants to the fund would be notified by March 15. In fact, the applicants are expected to be notified by March 30.

Alex Ye covers faculty and academics. He previously covered the endowment, finance and donations. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight majoring in applied mathematics.
Isabel Maney covers sustainability and environment. She is a first-year in Trumbull College.