Summary of Activity

Year One

The first year of the Initiative was devoted to developing a steering committee, brainstorming ideas, collecting feedback from the Columbia University community and narrowing the scope for future work.

In September 2016, Lisa Goddard and Radley Horton agreed to serve as co-chairs of the Climate Adaptation Initiative. A full steering committee was then formed to guide the activities, themes and projects of the Initiative.

Research inventory: In fall 2016, the Earth Institute underwent a review of existing research and courses related to adaptation, to take stock of current and ongoing work at Columbia.

Reading seminar series: The Initiative instituted a reading seminar in spring 2017 to create a common intellectual experience on climate adaptation. Each session was facilitated by a different Earth Institute scholar, involving open discussion on a set of readings.

Earth Institute center director workshop: In April 2017, the Initiative convened a meeting of center directors in order to solicit feedback on activities from the broader Earth Institute community, and develop ideas for future work.

Capstone course for undergraduate students: In spring 2017, a group of students worked on material for the Initiative through a Sustainable Development capstone course. With guidance from the steering committee, students underwent a literature review, developed a final report of their findings, and planned a well-attended public event.

Major themes: Throughout the course of the first year, three major themes repeatedly arose in conversation: adaptation in urban settings; retreat; and conservation.

Urban Adaptation, Conservation and Managed Retreat Icons

Year Two

The second year of the Initiative was devoted to organizing a series of panel events and reading seminars to engage students, faculty, and the public in a rich discourse around climate adaptation.

“The steering committee is putting into motion a lot of activity around campus that will touch undergraduates, graduate students, the public at large, faculty from different departments and engage those communities in a common interest area through all kinds of different modes of interaction.”

– Lisa Dale, Steering Committee Member

Year Three

The third year of the Initiative centered around the Managed Retreat theme, culminating in the first ever conference on this issue. Over 400 people gathered at Columbia University in June 2019 for three days of presentations and networking for the 'At What Point Managed Retreat?' conference.

Opening Keynote: At What Point Managed Retreat? Resiliency Building in the Coastal Zone


The work of the initiative laid the groundwork for future conferences on Managed Retreat. Now under the banner of the Columbia Climate School, over 900 people joined the virtual conference in 2021 under the theme Resilience, Relocation, and Climate Justice. The conference will return in hybrid format in 2023, when we will address topics surrounding Habitability and Mobility in an Era of Climate Change.