John Furlow has been appointed the fourth director of Columbia University’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society. He succeeds Lisa Goddard, who served as the head of the institution since 2012 and who stepped down in late 2020.
Goddard helped lead IRI out of a financial crisis when funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — which had created and sustained the institute for more than a decade — disappeared. Goddard and her staff rebuilt IRI with a far more diverse set of funding sources, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank, the World Food Program and other major international development agencies.
Through these efforts, along with a focus on developing and supporting a strong user community, IRI has emerged as a global leader in the creation and provision of climate services. This work also positioned the institute to lead the first Columbia World Project, called Adapting Agriculture to Climate Today, for Tomorrow (ACToday), and to build on the already excellent reputation of IRI, Earth Institute and Columbia University.
Goddard has returned to her role as a senior research scientist in IRI’s Climate Group.
“The IRI is so fortunate to have John on staff, and now as its director. I am extremely grateful that he has accepted this role,” she said. “Before coming to IRI, he really led thinking in the development community that embraced near-term actions on climate change and resilience, emphasizing under-utilized tools of environmental monitoring and forecasts of climate variability within the context of climate services. His passion for the work and his talent for network building, together with his very human approach to management, is exactly what the IRI needs in a director.”
Furlow joined IRI in 2017 as deputy director for humanitarian assistance and international development, with the goal of better connecting the institute’s research to the real-world challenges facing developing countries. He arrived just as IRI was launching ACToday, which is integrating climate services into six national approaches for achieving the Sustainable Development Goal on food security and nutrition. Furlow currently leads the Vietnam component of ACToday.
Prior to joining IRI, Furlow worked in USAID’s Climate Change Office, where he built its adaptation program. He advised the government of Jamaica in the development of its national climate change policy and its climate smart agriculture sector plan. He also led a project with IRI to develop Jamaica’s agro-climate service, which still produces a seasonal forecast tailored for farmers and agriculture extension workers. Furlow helped launch the Climate Services Partnership in 2011. When he worked at the State Department in 2015, he designed and managed the National Adaptation Plan Global Network as part of U.S. preparations for the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris. He also served on U.S. delegations to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2006-2016.
“I’ve admired IRI’s work for years, and it’s a real honor to take over from Lisa and be able to work with a great group of researchers,” said Furlow. “It’s an exciting time, with the start of Columbia’s new Climate School and its focus on ‘fourth purpose’ work that aligns so nicely with IRI’s long record of applying research for impact.”