In 2019, global environmental problems like climate change took center stage in national and international policy discussions, and Resources for the Future (RFF) delivered transformative research and policy ideas for decisionmakers working on these issues.
Today, we’re delighted to share with you our 2019 Annual Report, which catalogs remarkable RFF research and policy impact from the past year.
Download the Report
Letter from the President
In 2019, global environmental problems like climate change took center stage in national and international policy discussions, and Resources for the Future (RFF) delivered transformative research and policy ideas for decisionmakers working on these issues. In this annual report, you’ll find a selection of remarkable RFF achievements from the past year.
At RFF we think about having an impact on the world in three distinct ways. First, many of our research activities elucidate and quantify issues that decisionmakers care about, helping to clarify impacts, identify opportunities, and weigh competing options before high-stakes decisions are made. In 2019, we excelled in this work, informing policy proposals like Senator Tina Smith’s Clean Energy Standard Act, four major congressional carbon pricing bills, and New York State’s innovative “carbon adder” proposal. Our scholars’ analysis also showed that the Environmental Protection Agency’s high-profile new Affordable Clean Energy rule, which replaced the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, could result in emissions increases in more than 16 states—findings that were reported in numerous outlets including the New York Times and the Washington Post and discussed at a standing-room-only RFF Live event. And the US Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors, used RFF modeling throughout its 2019 report card.
But we don’t only quantify policy solutions. A second way in which we inform policy is by reshaping the way decisionmakers and the public think about problems, delivering fresh facts and innovative insights. In 2019, we partnered with global experts to assess the implications of new ice sheet modeling and discovered that sea levels may rise in excess of two meters by 2100 under a “business-as-usual” scenario—a breakthrough finding that generated more than 250 news articles, including the lead story on BBC News and coverage in CNN, USA Today, and the Washington Post. We also offered new ideas in crucial policy areas: we identified economic incentives that could reduce wildfire risks in California; we developed a first-of-its-kind tool to optimize how governments monitor invasive species; and we brought new public attention to the unaddressed threat of invasive animals in US national parks.
Because of our reputation for balance, independence, rigor, and results, RFF is able to convene different groups of stakeholders and decisionmakers, helping them to learn from one another, develop a shared understanding of issues, and find common ground. In 2019, we developed a forward-thinking Future of Carbon Pricing event series; we hosted the launch of Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Don Beyer’s cap-and-dividend proposal; we connected the RFF community to inspiring environmental policy leaders through our new Women in Leadership luncheon series; we helped to connect economists and Earth scientists at our “Taking the Pulse of a Changing Planet” convening; and we heard from distinguished guests like Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Neil Chatterjee at our Policy Leadership Series and former Representative Henry Waxman at our “Lessons from the Clean Air Act” symposium. On the international stage, Nobel Prize–winning economist William Nordhaus delivered the keynote speech at the launch of our new European Institute in Milan, and we hosted lively discussions on global climate change policy at the UN COP25 conference in Madrid.
As a data-oriented institution, we carefully track our impact. It is how we verify our decisions and demonstrate the results of our work to our community. I’m pleased to say that by every major metric, RFF performed exceptionally well in 2019. Our scholars produced more than 120 research publications, including 75 peer-reviewed articles. In the popular press, our research insights consistently generated news coverage—the New York Times, for instance, cited RFF and our scholars on 14 occasions during the year. Popular new data tools like our Carbon Pricing Calculator, Global Energy Outlook explorer, and 2020 Candidate Tracker helped to grow our overall web traffic by 20 percent. Our podcast, Resources Radio, was played 44,000 times by listeners in 2019. On Twitter, we grew our following by 45 percent, and both event attendances at RFF and views on our YouTube channel more than doubled in 2019. In addition to these milestone achievements, the esteemed IDEAS/RePEc rankings rated RFF #1 for environmental economics and #1 for energy economics from a field of 8,000 global research institutions, and RFF was shortlisted for Prospect magazine’s global economic think tank of the year award.
RFF relies on an exceptional group of people, from our supporters and board members to our staff, scholars, and the wider research community. In 2019, we invested in new talent across the organization, recruited outstanding scholars and organizational leaders, and started work on our important Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiative. We developed new ways of delivering value to our community—including the creation of a Business Leadership Council, which will engage leaders on the front lines of the economy throughout 2020.
At RFF, we’re investing in global partnerships to leverage the best expertise available anywhere and ensure that our research effectively reaches the decisionmakers who need it most.
At RFF, we’re investing in global partnerships to leverage the best expertise available anywhere and ensure that our research effectively reaches the decisionmakers who need it most. Our VALUABLES Consortium with NASA is helping Earth scientists to place a value on their satellite data—with the support of our economic expertise. Meanwhile, our transatlantic collaboration with the RFF-CMCC European Institute for Economics and the Environment is bringing together economists and climate scientists working on the global climate challenge.
I’m continually inspired by the work being done here at RFF—tackling today’s most pressing environmental issues, like climate change, in so many innovative ways. You will find out more about this work in the pages that follow. Thank you for taking the time to read this annual report, and I am deeply grateful for your continued support of RFF.
Richard G. Newell
President and CEO
Resources for the Future
Letter from the Chair of the Board
Some time ago, the respected author and journalist Jonathan Rauch wrote an article for the Atlantic entitled “Ideas Change the World—and One Think Tank Quietly Did.” The think tank in question, he wrote, was working on problems “years before most people even realized [they] mattered.” This institution delivered profound policy impacts in numerous important areas of environmental policy, all while maintaining its independence and rigor. He described it as “optimistic but also reformist, results-oriented rather than process-bound, and above all, both pro-market and pro-government.”
The year was 2002, and Mr. Rauch was writing about Resources for the Future.
This account of RFF has stuck with me, in part because it highlights our exceptional record of achievement in a gratifying way, but also because it gently points out one of our main historical challenges. As Mr. Rauch himself ponders, “Why isn’t this place famous?” Mr. Rauch offered a conclusion to his question. “The way to become famous in the world of ideas is to be ahead of the curve,” he explained, “whereas RFF has tended to be ahead of ahead of the curve.” He cited the fact that it took decades for innovations developed at RFF, like pricing air pollution or creating a market for radio-spectrum licenses, to be taken seriously—but when they were, they manifested as transformative public policy programs, like the congressional emissions trading program for sulfur dioxide and the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to auction off broadcast frequencies.
Problems like the global climate challenge demand urgent, highly visible solutions, spread far and wide to governments taking action around the world.
Yet, these days, problems like the global climate challenge demand urgent, highly visible solutions, spread far and wide to governments taking action around the world. I am pleased to say that RFF is quickly evolving: we are still developing ideas that can change the world, while also focusing increasingly on innovative outreach activities and continuous relationship building with decisionmakers and stakeholders. As a result, we’re more prominent in the public eye, and our ideas are informing decisions more rapidly than ever before. In short, we’re focused on delivering results—now and into the future.
Mr. Rauch concluded his article by noting that “good ideas still matter.” Nearly two decades have passed, and those sentiments are true now more than ever. With the generous support of our community, I know RFF will continue to be a wellspring of innovation for the next two decades—and beyond.
Susan F. Tierney
Chair, Board of Directors
Resources for the Future
In fiscal year 2019, RFF’s operating budget was $13.9 million, two-thirds of which came from grants from foundations, governments and other organizations, and individual and corporate contributions. RFF augments its operating revenue with net income from its building and earnings from its reserve fund. At the end of fiscal year 2019, RFF’s reserve fund was valued at $55.6 million.
RFF research and policy engagement continued to be vital in 2019, representing 73 percent of total expenses. Management, administration, and development expenses combined were 27 percent of the total.
RFF’s audited financial statements are available on our Financial Reporting page.