Today, we face dual crises—the COVID-19 pandemic and global climate change. As the pandemic brought business as usual to a grinding halt around the world in 2020, RFF responded to meet this challenge as researchers.
Our 2020 Annual Report demonstrates some of our top research and policy engagement highlights from a year unlike any other.
Letter from the President
2020 was a year unlike any other. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented tragedy and loss. It has also thrust us into an unprecedented examination of the connections between human activity, economic well-being, and environmental health.
I believe that brighter days are ahead—thanks to the dedication of scientists around the world, multiple vaccines have been developed in record time, and a new presidential administration brings fresh opportunities to apply our research and engagement expertise.
While it’s tempting to move ahead without looking back, there are lessons to be learned for our global climate challenge. The past year showed substantial emissions reductions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement are possible, and the stark changes in behavior and emissions during 2020 have demonstrated that rapid change is possible where there is the perceived need and the will. But 2020 has also demonstrated that we cannot simply “flip a switch” on emissions and maintain economic health. To cut emissions in a way that also protects economies will require technological and policy innovations and political buy-in at a scale never before seen.
To meet this challenge, RFF has been working to inform decisionmakers in innovative ways. For instance, RFF scholars made substantial progress in our efforts to improve the science behind the social cost of carbon, and worked with the state of New York to help inform their “value of carbon” guidance—a crucial early step toward the state’s target of 85 percent declines in greenhouse gases by midcentury. As the Biden administration reestablishes a federal interagency working group responsible for setting the social cost of greenhouse gases, RFF welcomes new opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing.
RFF’s work over the last year also examined the potential impacts of a variety of emissions-reducing policies, including carbon pricing and no- and low-carbon advanced energy technologies. We delivered these findings to decisionmakers through a variety of avenues in 2020, from a climate policy boot camp for a bipartisan group of congressional staffers, to innovative products like explainer articles, data tools, and our Resources magazine and Resources Radio podcast.
And in the spring of 2020, our Global Energy Outlook report explored the implications of the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic as it compared long-term energy projections from leading global institutions.
We’ve been reminded that there are real people— lives and livelihoods—behind the industries that have been so deeply affected, and at times devastated, by the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 400,000 clean energy and 100,000 oil and gas workers have lost their jobs in America from the heavy hit of the pandemic and resulting restrictions—the fastest rate of layoffs in the history of these industries. Joint research from RFF and Columbia University in the summer of 2020 explored a novel solution—plugging abandoned oil and gas wells to create new jobs for laid-off workers in these industries while also curbing methane emissions.
As the United States and the world work to curb emissions and shift away from fossil fuels, we also need proven policies that support these communities and workers in transition to ensure that we’re acting in the interests of both our climate and our communities. RFF and Environmental Defense Fund spearheaded efforts in 2020 to examine policies to support this “just transition” to a clean energy future—work that may prove all the more important as policymakers look to stimulate the US economy and put Americans back to work.
The last year has presented a unique set of circumstances in which to assess American public opinion on climate action amid competing social, political, and public health crises. In the summer of 2020, researchers at RFF and Stanford University embarked on a major survey to examine American public opinion on climate change, from fundamental beliefs about the existence of climate change, to opinions about the policies and stakeholders central to taking action. Findings from our survey were featured in more than 100 news outlets during 2020, including four different occasions in the New York Times.
We’ve been called upon to redouble our efforts to fight racism and inequality. As Americans struggled with the pandemic and resulting economic downturn, we also grappled with social upheaval as protests swept the country in reaction to violence against Black Americans, systemic racism, and inequity. RFF shared its outrage at these injustices, and recommitted ourselves to building a more diverse and inclusive workspace.
From its inception, RFF has been dedicated to working in the interests of society to serve the public good—this means all of society, especially historically marginalized and underserved communities. As economists, we understand the need to pay more attention to identifying effective and fair solutions, and our commitment to this work will continue in the months and years to come.
We’ve recognized that these challenges—be it a global health crisis, the threat of climate change, or systemic racism—demand collaborative solutions, and we are committed to bringing together global stakeholders to work together on them. We recently established the Global Climate Policy Partnership, an international network of leading economic and policy research institutes that will examine national, subnational, and global climate policy initiatives. Additionally, the dozens of researchers whom we are proud to call colleagues at the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment continue to produce compelling studies assessing policy options to take on our greatest global challenges, from the economywide impacts of sea level rise to the air quality and health implications of COVID-19 lockdowns. And in 2020, our VALUABLES Consortium with NASA awarded $300,000 in grants to researchers across 14 different institutions.
In 2020, RFF produced more than 135 new research publications on issues as diverse as jobs and equity, transportation, land use and forestry, electric power, adaptation and resilience, and more. Our research was cited in more than 500 news articles and op-eds across the globe. And we achieved all this while trying to work, to live, to care, and to cope amid a year unlike any other.
We’ve recognized that these challenges—be it a global health crisis, the threat of climate change, or systemic racism—demand collaborative solutions, and we are committed to bringing together global stakeholders to work together on them.
As we shifted our trademark RFF Live and Policy Leadership Series events to a virtual environment, RFF remained as committed as ever to delivering timely and relevant public convenings. We saw record attendance in 2020, welcoming more than 10,000 attendees to 23 public events that brought together policymakers, business leaders, authors, research experts, journalists, and members of the public.
Among the key lessons we’ve gleaned from the last year is this: there is no one “silver bullet” to address our global threats, but well-crafted solutions, rooted in rigorous, independent research, remain central to improving people’s lives and safeguarding our environment.
At the heart of all of this is people—the incredible, dedicated, thoughtful staff that comprise RFF, along with the exceptional members of our Board of Directors and President’s Council. None of this would be possible without their hard work, creativity, and resilience. We were particularly honored to welcome Jim Connaughton, Glenn Hubbard, and Barbara Kates-Garnick to our board. And we expressed our sincere gratitude to two departing board members, Rubén Kraiem and Sally Katzen, for their exceptional service to RFF. I’m pleased to say that Rubén and Sally continue their relationship with RFF as the new co-chairs of our President’s Council.
In the pages to come, you’ll see a snapshot of RFF’s impact in 2020. Thank you for taking the time to learn more about our achievements over the last year. We’re moving forward with resilience and renewed spirit to take on some of the world’s most pressing challenges. I hope you’ll join us on the journey.
Richard G. Newell
President and CEO
Resources for the Future
In fiscal year 2020, RFF’s operating budget was $15 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 2020, RFF’s reserve fund was valued at $58.4 million.
RFF research and policy engagement continued to be vital in 2020, representing 76 percent of total expenses. Management, administration, and development expenses combined were 26 percent of the total.
RFF’s audited financial statements are available on our Financial Reporting page.