DDL had a busy and exciting 2023. As we wrap up the first month of  2024, let’s take some time to reflect on the progress from last year and plans and goals moving forward.

2023 in Review:

  • Launched ChatNetZero, the world’s first AI-powered chatbot dedicated to demystifying net zero.

  • Launched the 2023 installments of our “Global Climate Action of Cities, Regions, and Companies” report. The first report focused on ambition and the second on progress of cities, states and regions in regards to their emissions-reduction goals and the follow-up focused on whether subnational governments are delivering on said promises.

  • Updated the UESI to include more cities, deeper analysis

  • Hosted and worked with three Yale-NUS student RAs at our office in Chapel Hill


DDL published 14 publications in 2023 on topics ranging from the role of regenerative finance in the green transition to the efficacy of local climate solutions to heat stress disparities. A complete list of our publications can be found here.

See what some of our researchers have to say about these findings: 

Kaihui Song, Post-doctoral Research Associate on “Projecting Future Heat Stress Disparities to 2100 in the Contiguous United States”: We assess the heat exposure, measured by Heat Index (HI), from present-day to 2100 at the county level in the contiguous US using Integrated Assessment Model results for five future warming and socioeconomic development pathways. We found people of color and those aged 65+ residing in the South are under high risks of heat exposure across all global warming scenarios.

Xuewei Wang, Research Scientist on “Citizen and machine learning-aided high-resolution mapping of urban heat exposure and stress: Last year, we published our urban heat mapping project, employing a unique blend of citizen science and machine learning approaches. This initiative delved into comprehending the heat distribution in Chapel Hill, showcasing how innovative methods, such as data collected by citizen scientists, contribute to enhancing urban heat models.

Katherine Burley Farr, PhD Student Research Assistant on “Quantifying subnational climate change mitigation solutions – a meta-analysis of impacts: One of the main goals of this project was to better understand the mitigation strategy options available to cities and the emissions reductions we can expect from these various options, so it was cool to see how the intensive data collection process was able to help us answer these questions. We also found evidence that cities and regions do not appear to be implementing the strategies with the highest emissions reductions, which could be due to a number of reasons such as political feasibility, funding and resources, or competing priorities.


DDL’s work touched all corners of the globe this year. Joining important conversations from New York to Dubai, our work continues to play an important role in international conversations about urban heat, greenwashing, and LLMs for good. Stay up to date on future conferences and speaking engagements with DDL on our events page.

Notable Grants 

DDL was awarded a $1.5 million grant by NASA to explore urban heat stress disparities and climate justice-oriented urban heat solutions. Extreme heat poses dangerous potential health consequences and can be exacerbated in urban environments. Using satellite remote sensing data, community-collected temperature data, demographic census data and machine learning, we will evaluate how extreme heat varies across different demographic groups over time. Read more about our urban heat research and the NASA grant here.


DDL Director Angel Hsu was awarded tenure and the prestigious Hettleman Prize at UNC-Chapel Hill. As one of five early-career faculty to receive the coveted award, Dr. Hsu was identified as a “promising faculty members who [exemplifies] groundbreaking and innovative research along with future career promise.”

New Research Assistants

As a university-based research group, we are always excited for the opportunity to work with new students. This year, in addition to working with UNC students, three research from Yale-NUS joined us to work in our Chapel Hill office. In addition to contributing to our research, RAs Nageen Rameez and Chester Ling wrote a number of blogs detailing their research experiences and findings. All of our blogs are available on our Latest Insights page.


Up Next:



Coming off of a very successful launch, we continue to improve and iterate ChatNetZero. In future stages of this project, we hope to add the option for users to upload and compare external CSR and sustainability reports to compare against our corpus of data on Net Zero Tracker entities. We also plan to continue implementing anti-hallucination and anti-greenwashing measures so that ChatNetZero’s answers continue to be as evidenced and truthful as possible.

Net Zero Tracker

Pending clarification on funding, we hope to scale up the Net Zero Tracker and provide more timely and up-to-date analysis of companies.


The UESI is continually updating and improving. This year anticipates a significant push in the second fiscal quarter, introducing new sustainability indicators at the city level. These include canopy UHI, city-level emissions, and a new climate policy indicator that monitors the commitment and progress of net-zero cities.

Global Climate Action

  • We plan to continue with our fourth annual installment of the Global Climate Action for Cities, Regions, and Companies report. 
  • We recently kicked off the Cities Climate Action Report Card, where we will be diving into the climate action pledges, plans, and contexts of a select set of cities around the world. This project is complementary to the meta-analysis and I’m hoping we will be able to better understand cities’ choices over mitigation strategies and assess the transparency and integrity of their climate action.
  • Dr. Hsu has been elected to represent the United States at an upcoming scoping meeting for the IPCC’s special report on cities.

Stay tuned for future updates.