February 2, 2024

Climate Leaders in Residence Will Enhance Duke’s Climate Efforts

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Francis Bouchard

Insurance executive Francis Bouchard, managing director for climate at Marsh McLennan, began his one-year residency at Duke last month. Watch a talk by Bouchard on climate risk and the insurance sector. Bouchard will be among the panelists at a Duke Climate Collaboration Symposium on "Risk Science for Climate Resilience" on February 15. 

A new initiative will bring top thought leaders on climate change to Duke University to share insights and expertise, sparking discussion and action. The Climate Leaders in Residence (CLIR) will enrich student learning and collaborate with Duke faculty and staff on pragmatic climate research and initiatives that could lead to significant change in the near future.

The CLIR program advances the aims of the Duke Climate Commitment, which unites the university’s education, research, operations and public service missions to address the urgent challenges posed by climate change. The program will be funded this year by the Presidential Climate Action and Innovation Fund, an endowment established by the Nicholas Family in support of the Duke Climate Commitment. The Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability is overseeing the program.

“As Duke experts pursue climate solutions, partnering with influential leaders outside the university in sustained ways will help ensure the scalability and durability of our efforts,” said Toddi Steelman, vice president and vice provost for climate and sustainability. “Climate Leaders in Residence are committing to bring their ideas, experiences and connections to our community, accelerating Duke’s impact today. By mentoring and interacting with Duke students, they will equip future leaders to influence climate decisions in their professional and personal lives.”

At the same time, decision-makers and thought leaders who serve as residents will benefit from the opportunity to forge relationships with Duke experts, take part in informative research and impact-oriented collaborative projects and have space for candid conversations. “It’s a win-win for the residents and for the Duke community,” Steelman said.  

The inaugural Climate Leader in Residence is Francis Bouchard, managing director for climate at Marsh McLennan, a global professional services company specializing in risk management and insurance. Bouchard, who has more than three decades of experience in the insurance industry, is teaming up with Duke experts to develop research partnerships and networks to help the insurance sector advance climate change solutions. His Duke collaborators span finance, the environment, public policy, engineering, business and more. He will also be engaging with students across numerous degree programs.

“The insurance sector has a proud history of finding novel ways to help society manage risks,” explained Bouchard. “On climate, insurers’ unique risk-signaling role, combined with their deep analytical capabilities, make them ideal partners for local leaders, policymakers and others seeking to develop risk management solutions to energy transition and community resilience challenges. The opportunity to work with Duke’s world-class experts to explore these new solutions, as well as to tap into the passion and curiosity of Duke students, is both exciting and humbling. I’m honored to serve as the first Climate Leader in Residence, and am proud that Duke recognized the insurance sector’s central role in the climate debate.”

The CLIR program’s design is modeled on the Rubenstein Fellows Academy, which brought top thought leaders to Duke between 2014 and 2021. Nominated by Duke faculty, potential residents must have expertise relevant to one or more of the Duke Climate Commitment areas of focus and can include accomplished, influential and well-connected private, public or nonprofit sector leaders; recent holders of political office; or public intellectuals. Each resident’s role is crafted in collaboration with them and is based on the intersection of their experiences and interests and Duke’s priorities. Most will work with Duke for one- or two-year terms, ideally dedicating between 50 percent and 100 percent of their time to the role.  

“The Climate Leaders in Residence program offers new opportunities for Duke to forge purposeful, high-impact partnerships necessary for solving complex climate-related challenges,” said Lydia Olander, a program director at the Nicholas Institute who is spearheading CLIR and other university-wide external engagement efforts of the Duke Climate Commitment.

In the years to come, the CLIR program also has plans to embed Duke’s thought leaders in external leadership positions in government, think tanks, nongovernmental organizations and other institutions. Such arrangements already occur on an ad hoc basis —Olander herself spent much of the last two years on loan to the White House Council on Environmental Quality — but CLIR could cultivate more such exchanges, she said.

Questions about the CLIR program? Contact Philip Hollingsworth, senior program coordinator.