The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions celebrated its 10-year anniversary by hosting an all-day forum Thursday at the Fuqua School of Business to determine Duke’s role in responding to the world’s ever-changing environmental problems.
In the decade since its inception, the institute has brought together experts in policy, environmental science and law to anticipate environmental challenges and work toward timely solutions. Some of the institute's major impacts on environmental policy have been in the management of federal land and the regulation of greenhouse gases, said director Tim Profeta.
Rather than just commemorating the institute’s past accomplishments, however, Profeta explained that the forum, titled "Leadership in a Time of Rapid Change: Envisioning Solutions to Environmental Challenges," would be more appropriately spent focusing on the future.
“Today is really about looking forward to our next challenges," Profeta said in his opening address. "Today we must talk about what problems are going to be over the next 10 years.”
The forum featured speakers from several disciplines, including former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Bill Reilly. Provost Sally Kornbluth said in an address that the purpose of the forum was not only to determine future climate and environmental problems, but also to facilitate conversation between the institute, policy-makers, businessmen and nonprofit leaders.
“The agenda was designed to help us take a deeper look at the rapid pace of change in the world, and at the challenges that such changes create for environmental policy and how some of those change-agents can be harnessed to help identify solutions,” Kornbluth said.
The forum was broken up into six expert-led panels throughout the day. Various themes of the panels included the technological revolution and how to harness and share data as a means to help inform environmental policy. Additionally, there was a focus on the effects of population growth, with Profeta citing a United Nations estimate that the percentage of the world’s population living in urban areas will have increased from 13 percent at the beginning of the 19th century to more than 60 percent by 2030.
Along with this growth, the institute aims to examine policies and technologies that can confront the issue of sustainable provision of food, water and power to the world’s population.
Due to the wide scope of the Nicholas Institute's goals, working toward environmental policy solutions requires teamwork among many different disciplines, Profeta said in his speech. The institute thus works closely with the School of Law, Sanford School of Public Policy, Fuqua, as well as other universities, nonprofits and governmental agencies.
President Richard Brodhead lauded the collaborative nature of the Nicholas Institute in an address, and said it sets an example for the University as a whole to follow.
“The Nicholas Institute was the first thing that gave us an idea of what became a signature of the University—we spent the last 10 years devising programs that follow the shape of the Nicholas Institute,” Brodhead said. “We said, 'We are going to start with problems and then focus on disciplines and how to broker relationships among those disciplines to work together and make the University an engine for real-world problem solving.’”
Profeta identified the proliferation of the institute’s model for collaboration as one of his main goals.
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“Environmental challenges are pretty big and pretty broad, so we need all the horsepower possible—all the intellectual power of universities—to try to solve them,” he explained. “I would like to make the model of this institute open-source and ideally be audacious enough to inspire other universities to follow suit.”