About the Initiative

The Climate Adaptation Initiative was an Earth Institute-wide, three-year effort (2016 - 2019) to enhance our impact on sustainability problem solving and to continue building Columbia’s community of scholars who can bridge disciplines, make their interactions more routine, and produce outcomes that are innovative and forward thinking.

The Initiative laid the groundwork for continued iterations of the Managed Retreat conference in 2021 and 2023.


The goal of this initiative was to create a process for encouraging cross-disciplinary work across the Institute. We aimed for the Institute to be more proactive in coming together around common work and identifying opportunities for which we have unique capacity. We aimed for a more strategic and systematic engagement for researchers and faculty to apply their expertise to theme-driven research in response to complex global challenges at an Institute-wide level.

Climate adaptation was selected because it is one of the broadest sustainability issues and included a large fraction of the Earth Institute community. This theme encompasses basic research in Earth systems, Earth-human interactions, and the integrating of emerging scientific knowledge around climate science and adaptation.

Nearly every Earth Institute center is engaged in climate adaptation in some way, but most specific efforts involve only small subsets of Earth Institute members. The project envisioned aimed to be larger and more inclusive. We looked to the Earth Institute community, led by a steering committee, to refine and narrow the scope of the initiative and define the activity.

Columbia University Morningside Heights

“There has not to date been a unifying program across which all the centers of the Earth Institute can come together and really work as one on one particular problem set.”

- Alex de Sherbinin
Committee Member