When Adil Najam arrived at MIT in 1992, he had already amassed an impressive résumé. He had hosted a television talk show, helped write the first national environmental policy for his native Pakistan, and contributed to Pakistan’s report to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
But he stayed away from climate issues during graduate school, even though most of his contemporaries were working on them. His interests were wide-ranging enough as it was: he earned master’s degrees both in technology and policy and in civil and environmental engineering in 1996 and received a PhD in urban studies in 2001. Then he began to approach climate change from the multidisciplinary perspective that has become his hallmark.
“Once climate stopped being an issue of chemistry and molecules and started being a societal and development issue, that’s when I started getting into it,” Najam says.
And he did, quite visibly. Najam served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore. Recently he was appointed to the UN’s Committee for Development Policy, which addresses medium- and long-term international-development issues. And, during teaching stints, Najam won MIT’s Goodwin Medal for Effective Teaching and Tufts University’s Fletcher School Paddock Teaching Award. Since 2007, he has been the Frederick S. Pardee Professor of Global Public Policy and the director of the Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University. He has also become a sought-after specialist in international negotiations, development, and the environment.
Najam, who lives in Boxborough, MA, with his wife and three children, credits MIT with fostering the ability to dive into multiple disciplines and identify their common threads.
“The world of knowledge is organized by disciplines,” he says. “But the problems we confront are not. I chose to be interdisciplinary, and that has been both a challenge and a satisfaction, because the great challenges of our time–climate change, poverty, security–are all interdisciplinary challenges. I think the best use I can put my training to is to be able to stand back and look at how things are connected and how they can be solved over the long term.”