Institute for International Economic Policy

Conference Prospectus

The conference schedule with papers and presentations is posted here.

Climate change will be a major international policy issue for decades to come. Greenhouse gas mitigation has been the overwhelming focus of research and policymaking thus far, but adaptation to climate change has moved up the policy agenda. Indeed, as a matter of prudence, careful analytical and policy research on adaptation to climate change should be a priority of international economic policy analysis.

Climate models indicate that the impacts of climate change will be greatest in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, low-income or lower-middle income regions where most of the world's poor live. The limited research and planning conducted to date has focused on adaptation in advanced countries. But as is generally acknowledged, conditions in low-income countries differ markedly, calling for research and planning tailored to these countries. Focusing on adaptation in low-income countries can yield a larger benefit in terms of social welfare: the poorest of the world have limited individual, and social, flexibility and resilience to cope with climate change. The comparative lack of attention to adaptation in low-income countries implies that there are more unaddressed questions for research to answer, with a potentially larger impact.

Our focus is on two key issues. First, understanding what households, firms, and local communities can be expected to do "autonomously" to adapt to climate change. Second, identifying and developing frameworks to improve policymaking toward adaptation given "deep uncertainty" about the types and magnitudes of climate-induced changes. A survey of the literature reveals that limited systematic and focused attention has been given to either issue. In general, theoretical and empirical economic analyses of adaptation to climate change are still in the early stages.

For a variety of reasons, households and countries that are less impoverished are better able to adapt to climate change. Hence, climate-resilient development is central to autonomous adaptation as well as to planned (or policy-based) adaptation. Autonomous adaptation may be hampered by distorted incentives associated with existing government policies, imperfect information, and financial obstacles. Specific autonomous adaptation issues of interest include:

  • Interaction between autonomous and planned (or policy-based) adaptation;
  • Creating incentives for appropriate, and appropriately-timed, autonomous adaptation;
  • Valuation of different forms of information for promoting autonomous adaptation;
  • Behavioral economic underpinnings of adaptation patterns and deficiencies;
  • Role and limitations of credit and insurance markets;
  • Use of micro data sets capturing responses of households, firms and communities to past environmental shocks to develop "models" of adaptation to climate change (including changes in climatic variability);
  • Domestic and international migration as an adaptive response.
  • Government has a crucial role to play in adaptation, and our second priority is exploring how to help policymakers cope with uncertainties associated with climate change when developing adaptation policies. The uncertainties range from ones that can be captured in traditional terms, i.e., with information on possible outcomes and their probabilities, to those where probabilities are uncertain or outcomes are not known with any confidence. Issues of interest include:

  • Alternative decision-making frameworks given uncertainty and their usefulness for policymaking;
  • Identification of "robust" strategies that perform well across scenarios;
  • Incorporating uncertainty about autonomous adaptation into policy planning;
  • Value of reduced scientific uncertainty, as well as technical uncertainty (will it work?) and market uncertainty (will consumers buy it?) in the development of adaptation technologies;
  • Feasibility of new types of insurance to moderate the effects of uncertainty;
  • Choice of social discount rate in adaptation policy.
  • We would like to involve policymakers, practitioners and scholars from low-income countries in the conference. The second, half-day of the conference will be devoted to a few case studies from countries where adaptation might matter most and matter soonest. In addition to papers examining case studies of adaptation in rural areas, submissions examining adaptation in urban areas are particularly encouraged.

    Two publications resulting from the conference are in progress: (1) Selected papers appearing in a special issue of Climate Change Economics; and (2) conference proceedings sponsored by UNDP that will collect the papers presented along with comments by discussants, panelists, and conference participants.

    You can read the background literature reviews for the conference:
    Climate Change, Uncertainty, and Decision-Making
    Autonomous Adaptation to Climate Change: A Literature Review

    Upcoming Events

    December 1 Monday
    Towards a Trusted Internet: Backdoors to the Crypto Nirvana Promised Land
    » 4:30pm - 6:00pm
    » Elliott School of International Affairs
    1957 E Street NW, Washington, DC

    December 2 Tuesday
    The Future of the Global Internet for Business and Entrepreneurs
    » 4:00pm - 6:00pm
    » Cisco
    601 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (North Building, Suite 900) Washington DC
    » RSVP on the event page.

    Please contact for more information.