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RFF Launches Major Research Initiative Focused on Adaptation to Climate Change

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 19, 2007
CONTACT: RFF Office of Communications (202) 328-5026

WASHINGTON - Resources for the Future is beginning a multi-year investigation into how the United States can develop policies to facilitate adaptation to climate change.

The initiative, to be managed by the Climate and Technology Policy Program at RFF, will encompass a broad spectrum of issues affecting both public and private sectors, including government at all levels, agriculture, surface and groundwater resources, coastal and marine ecosystems, public health, and land use.

"Clearly, adaptation will be as crucial to managing climate change as mitigation," said Senior Fellow Raymond Kopp, director of the RFF climate program. "To date, however, research on adaptation policy is both limited and scattershot. This work will bring a deeper and more coherent approach to the subject."

The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report noted key impacts that are probably inevitable for the planet, among them:

  • A sea level rise of 1-2 feet in this century
  • Decreased snowpack, winter floods, and more severe droughts
  • Increased risk of wildfires
  • Heat waves of increasing duration and intensity
  • Species extinction, changes in arable land, and increased erosion
  • Large relocations of population centers to more temperate areas

"More attention from policymakers is imperative to accommodate climate trends that are already underway," says Kopp. "Of the dozen or more climate bills pending in Congress," he adds, "only a handful even mention adaptation - and then seemingly only as an afterthought."

The project will target four major gaps in existing knowledge regarding adaptation that will be targeted areas for research. They are:

  • Quantification of the risks that U.S. communities and economic sectors face in the wake of possible climate change and increased variability;
  • Identification of how economic actors - individuals and industry - are likely to adapt in the absence of government intervention;
  • Specific coping strategies and activities that are likely to call for a role for government to reduce damages; and
  • A framework for policymakers to adopt appropriate strategies and activities.

One significant component of this work will be an examination of changing liability criteria within the insurance industry, which could be among the most affected sectors worldwide. New types of insurance policies to manage unanticipated risks associated with climate change - as well as the role of government in such areas as flood and crop insurance systems - will be a key focus of the study.

"As we work to craft greenhouse gas policy that might prevent dangerous climate change, it is only prudent to examine ways to accommodate a changing global environment," said RFF President Phil Sharp. "This initiative will build on our already substantial leadership in climate policy, and will establish RFF as a center on adaptation research."

Initial funding for the work will total nearly $1 million provided by private foundations. In addition to Kopp, the project will be led by RFF Senior Fellows Molly K. Macauley and Richard D. Morgenstern. Their work will be strongly interdisciplinary, engaging experts from such fields as biology, ecosystem management, meteorology, earth sciences, geomapping, demographics, public health, insurance and liability, engineering, law, and agriculture.

Resources for the Future is an independent, nonpartisan research institution that, through its social science research, enables policymakers and stakeholders to make better, more informed decisions about energy, environmental, and natural resource issues. RFF researchers have been engaged in climate change research and analysis for more than 25 years, and are recognized as experts in the analysis and design of climate change policies - and have played an influential role in advancing intellectually credible and politically sensible approaches to this challenging problem.


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