News - Harvard Project on Climate Agreements

Methane Emissions Research Project, Led by HPCA Director Robert Stavins, Receives Salata Institute Grant

  • Doug Gavel
| Feb. 14, 2023

A major project on methane emissions, led by Harvard Project on Climate Agreements Director Robert Stavins, is the recipient of one of five inaugural grants for cross-disciplinary, solutions-focused projects tackling the challenges posed by global climate change — awarded by Harvard’s Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability. The grants were announced on Monday (February 13).

The project’s research is focused on finding innovative ways to reduce methane emissions to slow the near-term growth of global warming and give humans and ecosystems more time to adapt to longer term changes still to come. Methane dissipates naturally from the atmosphere within 20 years — with a much shorter half-life than CO2 — but it is a much more potent greenhouse gas over the short-term.

Under Stavins’ direction as Principal Investigator (PI), the initiative aims to leverage this newly energized focus on methane in a wide-ranging project involving 17 Co-PIs and Collaborators – all faculty members at Harvard University. Participating faculty are based in Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, Harvard Business School, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In addition to conducting original research, they will engage with policymakers and other stakeholders, both within the United States and internationally, to inspire effective action to reduce methane emissions.

“By giving attention to methane, over the short to medium-term, we can have the effect of essentially buying time to develop long-term strategies to address carbon dioxide emissions,” Stavins said. “This is a soup-to-nuts project because we’re going from scientific detection and estimation of methane emissions all the way to public policy and communication with the public. 

“Through specific programs of research across the University and extended engagement, we can contribute significantly to meaningful progress in this area,” he continued. “The structure of our cluster as a truly end-to-end initiative — from natural science to policy and action — can ensure that the whole of the initiative will be greater than the sum of its parts, with regard to both knowledge-generation and impact.”

Stavins, who also directs the Harvard Environmental Economics Program (HEEP), and his research team are already engaged with Daniel Jacob, the Vasco McCoy Family Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry and Environmental Engineering at Harvard University, on a project funded by the Harvard Climate Change Solutions Fund to help policymakers better understand the causes of methane emissions and innovative ways to curtail them to enhance international efforts to achieve the emissions reduction targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. 

“If you look over a 100-year time horizon, which has been the traditional convention, then methane doesn’t look nearly as important as CO2. But you have to recognize that the emissions targets being used and considered right now are not for the year 2100 or 2050, they’re for 2030. And if you’re talking about from now until 2030, methane is incredibly important. That’s why there’s increasing recognition from so many participants in the process of the exceptional importance of methane,” Stavins said. 

The Salata Institute grants to the five initiatives will provide more than $6 million to programs that bring together 34 faculty members from disciplines across the university. Salata-supported projects will engage with collaborators from other institutions, including organizations on the front lines in West Africa, India, and Bangladesh. Collaborators hail from the University of Lagos, the University of Ghana, South Africa’s MUHOLI Art Institute, BRAC University in Bangladesh, the University of California at Berkeley, and the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute in Gujarat, India.

“It is really exciting to see these teams come together across Harvard Schools to work on important, applied climate problems,” said James Stock, Harvard’s Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability, the director of the Salata Institute, the Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy, and a HEEP Faculty Fellow. “Ultimately, the mission of the Salata Institute is to make meaningful progress on urgent climate challenges — reducing tons of emissions and saving lives. Nearly every big climate problem spans School boundaries, and this program provides Harvard scholars a chance to cross those boundaries as they work to have a major practical impact.”

The Salata Institute got its start in June 2022 and is supported by a $200 million gift from Melanie and Jean Eric Salata. During the institute’s opening symposium in October 2022, Jean Eric Salata said he’s confident that the world will meet the climate change challenge, though the work will be difficult and require contributions from all aspects of society.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Harvard Project on Climate Agreements
For Academic Citation: Gavel, Doug. “Methane Emissions Research Project, Led by HPCA Director Robert Stavins, Receives Salata Institute Grant.” News, Harvard Project on Climate Agreements, February 14, 2023.

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Robert N. Stavins