The Earth Institute

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The Earth Institute at Columbia University brings together talent from throughout Columbia University to address complex issues facing the planet and its inhabitants, with particular focus on sustainable development and the needs of the world’s poor.  The Earth Institute is motivated by the belief that science and technological tools already exist, and could be expanded, to greatly improve conditions for the world’s poor while preserving the natural systems that support life on Earth.


Under the direction of international economist Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, the Earth Institute supports pioneering projects in the biological, engineering, social, and health sciences, while actively encouraging interdisciplinary projects — often combining natural and social sciences — in pursuit of solutions to real world problems.

Responding to the particular challenges of sustainable development, Earth Institute faculty have recently focused on such topics as:

  • Carbon cycle and energy
  • Water access and safety
  • Hazards mitigation
  • Climate change and climate/society interactions
  • Global health
  • Ecosystems
  • Agriculture, ecology, and nutrition
  • Urbanization

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger strongly supports the Earth Institute’s goal of connecting the academic community to public service on a global scale. Columbia is committed to becoming a leader in environmental and sustainable development education, and a significant contributor in the international sustainable development arena. The Earth Institute will play an important role in this effort, expanding its educational programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-doctoral levels; and building connections with other leading institutions.

The Earth Institute’s distinguished External Advisory Board, and its growing relationship with the United Nations, are two examples of such connections. Six months before joining Columbia, Jeffrey Sachs was appointed Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs offer clear targets for cutting global poverty in half by the year 2015 by addressing on its many components including hunger, disease, access to energy, water, and sanitation, environmental degradation, and gender discrimination. Earth Institute faculty lead several MDG task forces and are using MDG goals to shape their own research agendas.

Today, four-fifths of the Earth’s inhabitants live in poverty, and burgeoning populations, both rich and poor, threaten the very ecosystems we rely on for life. The Earth Institute brings its strengths–from climate prediction to integrated water management, biodiversity conservation to public health, geophysics to hazards reduction–to the challenges of environmental decision-making, international development programs, and science policy.

In all it does, the Earth Institute remains mindful of the staggering disparities between rich and poor nations and the tremendous impact that global-scale problems — from the AIDS pandemic to climate change to extreme poverty in much of the developing world — will have on all nations. "Our generation has the tools to understand these massive problems," says Sachs, "and to mobilize our knowledge and resources — and those of the generation we teach — to create a life of shared prosperity and responsible environmental stewardship."

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