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In It for Life: University Announces the Duke Climate Commitment

The commitment spans the university’s education, research, operations and public service missions

Claire Wang, international climate policy expert, talks with Professor Brian Murray. Photos by Bill Snead.
Claire Wang, international climate policy expert, talks with Professor Brian Murray. Photos by Bill Snead.

The fight against climate change is enormous and complex, but speakers at the Duke Climate Commitment announcement on Sept. 29 had a message of hope and optimism, powered by advances in research and technology and by the growth of popular movements that are changing the political dynamics of the issue.

At the Page Auditorium event, every member of the Duke community was encouraged to join the campus-wide initiative.

President, Vince Price | Climate Commitment “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,” said Vincent Price, Duke University President. “Today, that new chapter—a story of a better future—begins.”

Price and Duke alumni, students, faculty, staff and guests spoke of the university’s goals to facilitate a clean energy transition, create more climate-resilient communities, leverage strengths in data to address climate problems, infuse climate fluency into the student curriculum and do all of this work with a focus on environmental and climate justice.

The event took place as Hurricane Ian spun north through the southeastern United States, punctuating the evidence that major storms are becoming more frequent because of climate change.

Here are some of the highlights from the event:

Vincent Price, Duke University President

“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.”

“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. “

“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.”

President Vince Price | Climate Commitment


John Kerry, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate

(Kerry was interviewed by Duke’s Brian Murray through a pre-recorded video.)

“We are in a difficult place right now, to be honest with you, because the world is not responding fast enough, and the science could not be more clear.”

“We can do this. We can win this battle. I don’t want anyone hearing this to be depressed. We created the problem, and we know many of the things and we need to do to solve it, but we haven’t found the political will to make these decisions and to move fast enough. But I am optimistic because I see things happening that will develop new ways of producing energy.”


Claire Wang ‘19, International Climate Policy Expert

“I think my biggest lesson from my relatively short climate career thus far, is that there is always more that we can do and always more that we must do to go further and to go faster. Full success on decarbonization is not enough if it happens in 2100 or 2300. We have to accelerate all of these activities. And what that means is leveraging all of the power that we all possess as individuals, especially for the young people in the room, to push policymakers to do more.”

Murray, Abram, Taylor, Wang | Climate Commitment

Ben Abram ‘07, CEO, Modern Energy

“We're painting a vision of a more just, sustainable world, and what we need is a lot of people to more or less be willing to come with us. … People need to make the choices and the way that you learn how people think and are willing to come join you in this new thing, this transition, is by listening.”


Benjamin Backer, Founder and President, American Conservation Coalition

“It's obviously an elephant in the room that as a conservative, there were zero conservative votes on the Inflation Reduction Act, and I think that was the biggest thing that was missing. We had a lot of amazing progress that was made with that legislation in a really common-sense way, but there weren’t Republicans at the table and I would honestly fault Democrats for that as well. It was an immensely partisan process and Republicans and Democrats have to be willing to come together on something like this. But its an election year so we can’t do something like that, but that doesn’t matter and it shouldn’t matter and that’s what we need to have differently going forward and there were a few key areas that were not tackled in the Inflation Reduction Act that I think could have labor focus and rural communities, what we should do around natural gas, there were a few areas that weren’t tackled. And that’s what I’ve set our sights on.”


Cameron Oglesby, Master of Public Policy student, Sanford School of Public Policy, and environmental justice advocate

“My vision is actually a bit of a twofer – story telling and solutions building. In one of them, I was working as a journalist, as an oral historian and storyteller – and generally as an environmental advocate. I think one of my biggest goals has been creating space for those communities, those voices that are historically underrepresented in climate discussions.”

“My hope is that I can shift not only who is telling those stories, who is control of the narrative, but also the way that climate change is perceived.”

Steelman, Backer, Oglsby, Ubaldo | Climate Commitment

Marinel Sumook Ubaldo, Master of Environmental Management student, Nicholas School of the Environment

“For me as a 25-year old young woman from the Phillippines, I am envisioning a world where it is safe for me to dream, and it is safe for me to believe that it will be safe for my children in the future. I want a world that it is easy for me to hold my potiential.”


Norman Wirzba, Gilbert T. Rowe distinguished professor of Christian theology in the Duke Divinity School

 Norman Wirzba | Climate Commitment“We also believe that it’s so important that we help our students move from despair to agency, so that they can see that no matter what career path they choose, they have an important role to play.”



Carmichael Roberts Jr. ’90, Ph.D. ’95, business lead of the investment committee for Breakthrough Energy Ventures and founder of Material Impact, vice chair of the Duke Board of Trustees

Judy Woodruff, Carmichael Roberts | Climate Commitment

[Duke will create climate leaders by] “Without having too prescriptive of a path, but by more just creating a culture that allows people to come up with ideas that will be innovation in policy, innovation in technology, innovation in business, innovation in collaboration. There’s so much innovation that’s needed to address this problem.”

The commitment is supported by $36 million in gifts, including an initial award provided by The Duke Endowment.

High fiving panelists | Climate CommitmentThe initiative came out of the work of a climate change and sustainability task force. Trustee Jeff Ubben chaired the task force, with Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment Toddi Steelman and Executive Director of Sustainability Tavey Capps serving as task force vice chairs.

Read more about the Duke Climate Commitment