The Center for International Development has relaunched its signature annual event, the Global Empowerment Meeting (GEM), realizing important first steps in the center’s ambitious goals to grow the gathering not only in size, but also scope and year-round impact.
Themed around exploring climate solutions at a global scale, the “GEM23: Growing in a Green World” conference at Harvard Kennedy School on May 10-11 was co-hosted by Harvard’s Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability and was part of Harvard Climate Action week. The GEM conference brought together more than 160 researchers, public policy officials, private sector leaders, civil society representatives, and philanthropists from 35 countries.
More than 1,300 people from around the world registered to watch live-streamed portions of the programming, which emphasized climate challenges faced by developing countries and included a keynote address by Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani-Sadriu.
In addition to speeches and panels, the conference also featured four “Climate Incubation Rooms,” which were facilitated by Harvard faculty, practitioners in the climate field, and students. Participants were encouraged to network and develop early-stage research ideas on four topics: sustainability in the Amazon; food security and emerging technologies; evidence-based disaster responses; and solar geoengineering.
Later this year, some of those ideas could become funded research projects, as GEM23 was also the launch platform for the GEM Incubation Fund, which will support collaborations between researchers and practitioners through a collaboration between CID and Harvard Radcliffe Institute. The fund will open for proposals later this summer. Teams that developed research ideas through the fund will report back on their progress next year at GEM24.
The leadup to the conference also included several months of programming, with the launch of CID’s inaugural “Road to GEM” series earlier in the spring. Students played a crucial role in organizing and hosting live events, film screenings, and podcasts with leading climate experts across academia, civil society, and the private sector.
At the kickoff dinner on May 10, Harvard University Dining Services (HUDS) collaborated with local chefs Tracy Chang and Irene Li to design a climate-conscious menu based on ingredients that are sustainable as well as culturally familiar and nutritious to local immigrant communities facing food insecurity. The menu included ingredients like grasshoppers mixed into dishes, including a parmesan crisp that garnished salads, dusted on a tuna main dish.
In opening remarks, CID Faculty Director Asim I. Khwaja urged the attendees to be “energized and optimistic” and ready to work together to build a thriving world for all—“especially the poorest and those facing the greatest challenges.”
Harvard University Vice Provost James Stock, director of the Salata Institute, lauded several examples of cross-university collaboration on climate, including a project at the Graduate School of Design to envision buildings that can function as energy-storage batteries and a new satellite observation program to monitor global methane emissions recently launched by the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Science. After Harvard Radcliffe Institute Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin announced the launch of the GEM Incubation Fund, Harvard Kennedy School Dean Doug Elmendorf applauded CID’s ambitious plans to expand the conference, as well as its broader efforts “to strengthen [the center] as a hub of collaboration across Harvard.”
Kosovo President Osmani was introduced by CID Executive Director Fatema Sumar, who called her a “trailblazer” for her efforts to balance her young country’s efforts to achieve sustainability, energy security, job security and gender equality—even as it deals with severe power reliability issues and frequent disruptions of electricity supply.
In her keynote address, Osmani emphasized that the climate crisis doesn’t respect borders and is impacting every human being and every country on earth.
“Climate action here and now should be the legacy of our generation,” she said. “We are indeed a small country, a very small country, and our greenhouse gas emissions are not even closely comparable to those of the United States or the global big economies. But that should not put us at ease. Whether you come from a big or a small country, this is not a job that should be left to others.”
She also discussed the importance of collaboration and partnership in addressing the concerns of climate change, especially between established powers and smaller developing countries like Kosovo.
“Because we're not a UN member, Kosovo is neither a party to the UN framework Convention on Climate Change, nor a signatory party to the Paris Agreement—although we've unilaterally made those commitments applicable to our country,” she said. “While this unjust reality left our country out of high-level discussions, it has never faded our commitment and dedication to doing our share of work. But leaving us out of the room has also meant leaving us out of all the financing instruments that could have helped my country cope with the challenges of climate change.”
Despite those challenges, Osmani said Kosovo recently signed on to the Global Methane Pledge. The country is taking other steps to green its economy, she said, and will soon host the largest battery storage capacity project supported by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (a bilateral United States foreign aid agency established by Congress in 2004), as well as the first project in the Balkans for central heating through solar panels.
The afternoon featured two panel discussions. The first, “Greening Emerging Economies,” was moderated by Pro Publica reporter Abrahm Lustgarten, and featured Growth Lab Director Ricardo Hausmann, Bezos Earth Fund CEO Andrew Steer, International Finance Corporation Global Climate Lead Katherine Koh, and U.N. Special Adviser on Africa Cristina Duarte.
The second panel, “Building Resilient Societies,” was moderated by journalist Andrew Revkin and featured Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) Faculty Director Rema Hanna, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Data Science Initiative co-director Francesca Dominici, Oxfam America's Chief Innovation Officer Laté Lawson-Lartego, and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee Climate and Environmental Specialist Myisha Ahmad.
Each year, the conference is themed around a major issue facing developing nations and the world. The focus on next year’s GEM24 will be on gender and development and co-hosted with the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP).
Photographs by Matthew Teuten