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Wilkes Climate Summit focuses on collaboration, opportunity, innovation

One year ago, the Wilkes Center for Climate Science and Policy’s founders pledged to bring together students and researchers, policymakers and entrepreneurs to find solutions to combat the cascading impacts of climate change.

On May 16 and 17, the center’s inaugural climate summit at the University of Utah did just that—convening scientists, inventors, business and government leaders in a collective effort to explore the best solutions for a warming planet.

 “Our goals are to build bridges, think broadly, spark innovation, and find ways to accelerate climate solutions,” said William Anderegg, director of the Wilkes Center. 

Discussion and presentations at the two-day climate summit ranged from the wonders of cultivating perennial, protein-rich Baki beans and planting restorative Inga trees in decimated tropical rainforest clear-cuts, to the power of the Great Salt Lake’s shrinking shoreline to bridge Utah’s political divides and bring real change to the state’s intransigent water policy debates.

Brad Wilson, Speaker of the Utah House, delivered a keynote address at the Wilkes Climate Summit.

Created in August of last year with a $20 million gift from Clay and Marie Wilkes, the purpose of the center is to provide cutting-edge solutions to tackle climate change not only in Utah but across the globe.

“There is an opportunity here for the Wilkes Center to be the role model for how academia works with the other stakeholders in climate science and technology,” Clay Wilkes said. 

Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson reiterated this need for collaboration. In a keynote address on Wednesday, Wilson noted that in a time of political divisiveness, the effort to save the lake has been different.

“This has been one of those issues that regardless of political ideology has brought people together,” Wilson said. “And it's been really amazing and rewarding to watch people link arms and commit to do the right thing. And we have made great progress.”

As of Wednesday, Wilson said the lake has risen 4.6 feet since November. While the main driver of that was snowfall, Wilson said conservation efforts are also part of the increase. Though this progress is significant, there is still more work to do including fighting the public apathy that could develop after such a wet winter.

“Meaningful systemic changes to the way we think about water in the state of Utah and the Great Salt Lake are still very important,” he said.

Wilkes Center Climate Prize at the University of Utah

A key initiative of the center is the historic $1.5 million Wilkes Center Climate Prize at the University of Utah, the largest university-affiliated climate prize in the world. Five finalist teams were selected from 77 proposals and presented their projects for consideration.

“The Utah Climate Prize brought together a coalition of industry leaders and philanthropists to create one of the largest climate prizes in the world with the goal to galvanize workable, innovative solutions to solve climate change,” Anderegg said. “This attracted submissions from all sectors of the economy and corners of the globe.”

The winner of the Wilkes Center Climate Prize at the University of Utah will be announced in the fall.

Read more about the five finalists for the prize below:

Wilkes Student Innovation Prize

 The Wilkes Student Innovation Prize provided a unique opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students at the U to pitch their innovative climate solutions and win thousands of dollars, Anderegg said. 

“One of the most impactful ways the Wilkes Center is integrating into our campus is the inclusion of our students in its programs and initiatives,” he added. “Students are gaining valuable experiential learning opportunities.” 

Read more about the four student teams that won the Student Innovation Prize below: