Thank you all for being here for this exciting moment for Duke.

I’d like to begin by recognizing trustee Jeff Ubben, who served as chair of our Climate Change and Sustainability Task Force, along with Dean of the Nicholas School Toddi Steelman and Executive Director of Sustainability Tavey Capps, who both served as Vice Chairs. Without your leadership, none of this would be possible. Thank you.

In coming to Duke, I knew I was joining a community of enormous intellectual power. We are also a community dedicated to purpose and commitment, a community brimming with innovation and potential and the opportunity to write a bold new chapter. Today, that new chapter—a story of a better future—begins.

The Duke Climate Commitment is a transformational initiative for Duke, one that is unprecedented in our history and in higher education.

Never have we committed to marshaling every part of our enterprise—our collective resources, talents, and passions—toward solving a global problem in such a focused way. The scale and importance of our climate-related challenges call for nothing less: creating sustainable and equitable solutions that will place society on the path to a resilient, flourishing, net-zero-carbon world by mid-century.

Our history has prepared us well to rise to this moment—indeed, at a time when some of our peers are launching new climate schools, we have been leading in this work for as long as we have been Duke.

The School of Forestry and the Marine Laboratory were both founded more than 80 years ago, in the early days of our university. More than 30 years ago these entities came together into one school—and thanks to a foundational gift from the Nicholas family, we now have the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Seventeen years ago, we launched what is now the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability, which elevates our environmental work through education, sustained engagement, and convening of stakeholders and policy experts. A dozen years ago, we launched our plan to achieve carbon neutrality, and we have operated with a broad strategic plan to achieve sustainability in areas such as energy, water, food, and land use.

The Duke Climate Commitment builds on and concentrates these many complementary resources. Our research will advance core areas of expertise in transforming energy, creating climate-resilient communities and ecosystems, and developing data-driven climate solutions—all with a focus on more equitable engagement. Our teaching will infuse climate and sustainability into programs across the university, improving the lives of our students and preparing them to lead as alumni.

But the reason that this can only happen at Duke is our distinctive excellence in interdisciplinary collaboration. While the Duke Climate Commitment will have the Nicholas School and Institute at its heart, it will encompass research and teaching across all of our schools and institutes, guide our campus operations, and help us foster stronger, collaborative relationships with partners in our community, state, nation and around the globe.

To that end, we’re launching data expeditions with an initial focus on climate and health and collaboration grants to drive creative research across disciplines. We’re committing to making climate and sustainability fluency foundational to the curriculum for every student at Duke and extending our reach to our alumni. As we continue to work toward our goal of carbon neutrality in 2024 and to lead the way in sustainable operations, we’re developing Duke as a living laboratory to study and solve climate and sustainability issues. And perhaps most importantly, we’re supporting environmental sustainability in the community and advancing our understanding of the critical impacts of climate change on social and racial equity.

None of this would be possible without the support of our extraordinary partners, donors, and alumni.

The Duke Endowment has provided early foundational support in launching climate literacy, research, and campus sustainability efforts.

Jeff and Laurie Ubben and Mike and Karen Stone are leading the way in supporting our transformational teaching and an endowed professorship.

Katy Hollister and her husband Brad Miller have provided seed funding along with an anonymous 1994 Pratt School graduate to create the DESIGN Climate program—a first-in-class experiential learning initiative for engineering and environmental students.

Cindy Marrs has supported courses and co-curricular activities in climate finance in the Duke Financial Economics Program.

And building on their incredible support of this work, the Nicholas Family this week announced a significant lead gift to create a Presidential Climate Action and Innovation endowment to lift the entire university-wide initiative.

These gifts represent a tremendous foundation for a climate commitment that will harness the best of Duke toward solving a seemingly intractable problem.

We know we can do it. We know that we will do it.

And that’s why the Duke Climate Commitment marks a hopeful moment for us—when we seize the opportunity and step up to our responsibility to lead toward a brighter, healthier future. I hope you will join us in this transformational undertaking.

Duke is in it, together, for life. Thank you.


I want to thank our program and panel participants for joining us today—and thank everyone here with us for your support as we mark this important moment—both for our university and the world that we hope to shape.

Too often in modern life, the drive to be innovative, the drive to be creative, has not been coupled with a thoughtful approach to being sustainable—to innovating in a way that leaves us all better off fifty or a hundred years down the road. 

As an institution, we have an opportunity today to chart a different course. At Duke, we have the bold thinkers to allow us to make this commitment. We have the diversity of thought, we have the talented students and staff, we have the global network of extraordinary alumni, we have the obligation as an employer, and we have the history.

That is why we must succeed. That is why Duke is in it, together, for life.

Thank you all. That concludes today’s event, but I hope you will join us for the sessions tomorrow and beyond.