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Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change, Report in Brief

Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change, Report in Brief

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Published by earthandlife
Climate change is one of the most important global environmental problems facing the world today. Policy decisions are already being made to limit or adapt to climate change and its impacts, but many of these decisions are being made without the science support that could help shape better outcomes. In the United States, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) is responsible for coordinating efforts to generate the scientific knowledge to understand, predict, and respond to climate change. At the request of the CCSP, the National Research Council established a committee to evaluate the progress of the program and to identify future priorities. This, the committee's second and final report, proposes six priorities for restructuring the United States' climate change research program to develop a more robust knowledge base and support informed responses.

Climate change is one of the most important global environmental problems facing the world today. Policy decisions are already being made to limit or adapt to climate change and its impacts, but many of these decisions are being made without the science support that could help shape better outcomes. In the United States, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) is responsible for coordinating efforts to generate the scientific knowledge to understand, predict, and respond to climate change. At the request of the CCSP, the National Research Council established a committee to evaluate the progress of the program and to identify future priorities. This, the committee's second and final report, proposes six priorities for restructuring the United States' climate change research program to develop a more robust knowledge base and support informed responses.

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Published by: earthandlife on Dec 15, 2010
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       T       H       E
 CE  MI    E   S  
NATIONAL
I    B  I    E  F  
REPORT
National Academy of Sciences • National Academy of Engineering • Institute of Medicine • National Research Council
Climate change is one of the most importantglobal environmental problems facing the worldtoday. Policy decisions are already being made tolimit or adapt to climate change and its impacts,but there is a need for greater integration be-tween science and decision making. This reportproposes six priorities for restructuring theUnited States’ climate change research programto develop a more robust knowledge base andsupport informed responses.
ising sea level, retreatingmountain glaciers, meltingArctic sea ice, lengtheninggrowing seasons, shifting animal migration patterns, and other changes all attest to thefact that climate change is already occurring.
 Numerous respected scientic reports predict
that the Earth will continue to warm inthe coming decades, and suggest that thisfurther climate change is inevitable—even if 
humans signicantly reduce greenhouse gas
emissions now. This climate shift could, at aminimum, disrupt supplies of fresh water andfood; increase degradation of land and oceanecosystems; and present new threats to publichealth, the economy, and national security.Science is critical to the ability to respondeffectively to climate change. Observationsand experiments improve understanding of thechanging climate system and enable scientiststo more accurately predict what lies ahead.Science also can illuminate the human driversof climate change, the response of the climatesystem to these drivers, and the societal impactsof and responses to climate change.Governments around the world are takingsteps to limit or adapt to climate change, andnearly 80 percent of U.S. states have adoptedor are preparing climate action plans. Many policy decisions, however, are being made
Restructuring Federal Climate Researchto Meet the Challenges of Climate Change
without the science support that could help shape better outcomes. In the United States, the U.S.Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) isresponsible for coordinating efforts to generate the
scientic knowledge to understand, predict, and
respond to climate change. Given the change of administration in 2009, the name and emphasis of the program is likely to change, even though its basic functions will continue. At the request of theCCSP, the National Research Council established acommittee to evaluate the progress of the programand to identify future priorities. The committee’s
rst report,
 Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Cli-mate Change Science Program: Methods and Pre-liminary Results
, was published in 2007 (see Box
1). This, the committee’s second and nal report,
focuses on future priorities for the program.
Guiding Transformational Change
This report lays out a framework for gener-ating the knowledge base needed to understandclimate change and support informed responses. Tomeet these challenges, a transformational change isneeded in how climate change research is orga-nized and in how the results are incorporated into public policy.
Atlanta’s Lake Lanier during a severe drought in 2007.Climate change may bring increased drought; science iscritical to the ability to understand, predict, and respondto climate change. Photo by Ed Jackson, U. of Georgia.
 
In the past, research on climate change has beenaimed at understanding processes that involve only
one or a few scientic disciplines. Future approaches
will require much more integration—between disci- plinary and multidisciplinary research, natural andsocial sciences, and basic research and practical ap- plications. This integration is needed to approach theclimate change problem “end-to-end”—that is, from basic science to decision support. Such an approach isneeded to address many issues, including:Extreme weather and disastersSea level rise and melting ice
Fresh water availability
Agriculture and food securityManaging ecosystemsHuman healthImpacts on the economy of the United States
Top Priorities
The report identies six top priorities for a re
-structured climate change research program. Althoughthey build from each other, work can begin on all of these priorities now.
 Reorganize the Program Around Integrated 
 Scientic-Societal Issues
Societal concerns about climate focus on chang-es that are visible now and the impacts of these chang-
es. For example, how might ice that is
melting today affect the availability of fresh water in the future? Addressingsuch societal concerns requires a strongunderpinning of research, observations,and predictive models. The research program should be reorganized to facil-itate cross-cutting research focused onunderstanding the interactions amongthe climate, human, and environmen-tal systems and on supporting societal
responses to climate change. For this
framework to be effective, research onthe natural climate system will haveto be maintained. In addition, researchon the human dimensions of climatechange, as well as stakeholder-drivenresearch—that needed by state andlocal governments, private companies,environmental organizations, and other groups—will have to be strengthened.
 Establish a U.S. Climate Observing  System
Observations are critical for documenting, understanding, and predicting climate change in contexts that can helpinform decision making at the local, state, federal, andinternational levels. Unfortunately, the satellite andground observing systems that formed the basis for the current understanding of the climate system arein decline, even as demand grows for data capable of detecting climate variability and change.A U.S. climate observing system—including physical, biological, and social observations—should be established to ensure that data needed to addressclimate change are collected or continued. In additionto augmenting current satellite and ground observ-ing systems, the system should support new types of observations, including human dimensions observa-tions that are needed for developing mitigation andadaptation strategies. Designing and implementingthis climate observing system will require agencies towork together to develop a more strategic approach todata collection, distribution, and maintenance.
 Support a New Generation of Coupled Earth System Models
Our ability to predict climate change at regionaland local spatial scales and at seasonal and decadaltemporal scales is inadequate for forming adapta-tion and mitigation strategies. A new generation of coupled human-land-ocean-atmosphere models wouldimprove predictions at these scales and help bridge the
Box 1.
 Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results (2007)
This report is the second and nal report of the Committee on Stra
-tegic Advice on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). The
committee’s rst report,
 Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate ChangeScience Program: Methods and Preliminary Results
(2007), concluded that:Discovery science (driven by curiosity rather than by practical applica-tions) and understanding of the climate system are proceeding well, butuse of that knowledge to support decision making and to manage risksand opportunities of climate change is proceeding slowly.Progress in understanding and predicting climate change has improvedmore at global, continental, and ocean basin scales than at regional andlocal scales.Our understanding of the impacts of climate changes on human well-be-ing and vulnerabilities is much less developed than our understanding of the natural climate system.Observations have fueled advances in climate change science and ap- plications, but many existing and planned observing systems have beencancelled, delayed, or degraded, which threatens future progress.Progress in communicating CCSP results and engaging stakeholders(those either contributing to or using the results of the program) is inad-equate.The separation of CCSP program leadership and its budget authority presents a serious obstacle to its progress.
 
gap between science and decision making.This new generation of coupled Earth system
models will require investment in several areas. First,
sustained climate observations are needed to further develop and constrain the models, and to begin thesimulations from an accurate depiction of the state of the environment. Second, tools are needed to trans-late the data and model output into information thatis more usable by stakeholders. Third, a larger cadreof scientists is needed to develop new approaches to predict climate change across a wide range of spaceand time scales, particularly at scales down to a few
kilometers. Finally, new computing congurations
will be needed to deal with the computational and datastorage demands arising from these improved high-resolution, high-output-frequency models.
 Strengthen Research on Adaptation, Mitigation,and Vulnerability
The underlying human dimensions researchneeded to understand and develop sound adapta-tion strategies is a major gap in the current ClimateChange Science Program. In particular, research isneeded to better understand variability in our vul-nerability and capacity to adapt to climate changes;economic costs and dynamics; and human behaviors, policy preferences, and choices. Although adapta-tion, mitigation, and vulnerability research would beneeded for all the societal issues in the proposed newresearch framework, an additional focused researcheffort would help speed results. Agencies with appro- priate expertise in these areas should take a leadershiprole in supporting and directing this research.
 Initiate a National Assessment of the Risks and Costs of Climate Change Impacts and Options to Respond 
A comprehensive national assessment is animportant mechanism to determine the risks and costsof climate change impacts in the United States, andto evaluate options for responding. It also provides ameans to involve stakeholders in the research programand to identify evolving science and societal needsand priorities. Although the Climate Change ScienceProgram is mandated to carry out a national assess-ment every four years, the last one to involve a broadrange of stakeholders was conducted a decade ago.The program has published a sizeable collection of synthesis and as-sessment reports ona range of topics, aswell as an over-arching synthesis;however, this collec-tion does not add upto a comprehensivenational assessment.A new assess-ment is needed thatdoes not merelysummarize pub-lished studies, butincorporates targetedresearch to producenew insights, ob-servations, models,and decision sup- port services. Thiseffort will requirestrong political and
scientic leadership,
adequate funding,a careful planning process, and engage-ment of stakeholdersat all stages of the process.
Examples of societally important issues, in the form of major impacts of climate changes associatedwith increasing global temperatures. Adapted from IPCC
Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptationand Vulnerability
, Figure SPM2, Cambridge University Press.

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