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By Matt Hayes
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  • Department of Global Development
  • Climate
  • Global Development

Climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, who first discovered in the 1970s the climate-altering impacts of certain carbon chemicals in the atmosphere and who has been a driving force to enact policies to curb global warming for four decades, is joining Cornell’s Department of Global Development.

Ramanathan, known as “Ram”, will serve as adjunct professor of global development in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) where he will develop innovative climate education/literacy programs and work to advance Cornell’s 2030 Project. The university-wide climate initiative will launch in 2022 to harness the collaborative scholarship, science, innovation and entrepreneurialism of a world-class research university to develop and scale tangible climate solutions.

“Ram’s ground-breaking discoveries on atmospheric physics and its interactions with chemistry shaped the fundamental science of climate change, and his leadership in climate change solutions and climate education for all is beyond reproach,” said Benjamin Z. Houlton, the Ronald P. Lynch Dean of CALS. “We are absolutely thrilled to have him join Global Development and our teams of researchers confronting this existential challenge.”

Ram is a leading researcher on global warming pollutants, most notably short-lived molecules like methane, halocarbons, ozone and black carbon. These compounds linger in the atmosphere for weeks to years rather than decades to centuries but have heat-warming potencies at factors of magnitude greater than carbon dioxide. In 1975 he discovered the super-greenhouse effect caused by cholorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and later showed how reductions in emissions of short-lived climate pollutants can dramatically slow warming and reduce air pollution. His research has revealed the global impacts of atmospheric carbon on the climate, agriculture and environmental justice.

“I am thrilled and honored to join CALS and help the college with its goals in climate solutions including climate education,” Ram said. “Climate change has morphed into climate crisis demanding urgent solutions and academic institutions have to step up and help the world. Cornell’s 2030 Project is exactly the sort of effort our nation needs.”

Ram’s research has influenced global policy for nearly half a century. He advises the Pope and Vatican on climate and environmental policies and co-founded Project Surya, an initiative that originated in India to replace polluting cooking stoves with cleaner cooking technologies.

In 1990 he joined the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego where he led climate sustainability efforts. As an educator, Ram launched the University of California's Bending the Curve: Climate Change Solutions, an education protocol taught across the UC system and at campuses around the world. The curriculum he developed expanded from a single for-credit undergraduate course to become a massive online educational system to empower people to understand and solve climate change challenges. 

Among his accomplishments, he received the Blue Planet Prize in 2021 and the Tang Prize for Sustainable Development in 2018. He was named by Foreign Policy magazine as a top 100 global thinker in 2014 and has been elected to many science academies around the world, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Academia Europea and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, where he is the council member.

Faculty spotlight

Veerabhadran "Ram" Ramanathan

Research focus: Understanding the human-nature interactions and how these interactions influence climate change and climate actions

Teaching focus: Creating climate literacy to all adults, college to high school students, and leaders to workers in the private sector

Ram

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