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Planning Climate and Global Change Research Executive Summary For the last century human activities have been altering the global climate. Atmospheric abundances of the major anthropogenic greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and tropospheric ozone) reached their highest recorded levels at the end of the twentieth century and continue to rise. Major causes of this rise have been fossil fuel use, agriculture, and land-use change. Observations show that Earth’s surface warmed by approximately 0.6 ºC (1.1 ºF) over the twentieth century. This warming has been attributed in large part to increasing abundances of greenhouse gases, though it is difficult to quantify this contribution against the backdrop of natural variability and climate forcing uncertainties. The emerging impacts of this change on natural systems include melting glaciers and ice caps, sea level rise, extended growing seasons, and changes in the geographical distributions of plant and animal species. Because the Earth system responds so slowly to changes in greenhouse gas levels, and because altering established energy-use practices is difficult, changes and impacts attributable to these factors will continue during the twenty-first century and beyond. Uncertainties remain about the magnitude and impacts of future climate change, largely due to gaps in understanding of climate science and the socio-economic drivers of climate change. Research to understand how the climate system might be changing, and in turn affecting other natural systems and human society, has been underway for more than a decade. Significant advancement in understanding has resulted from this research, but there are still many unanswered questions, necessitating a continuance of this effort. As society faces increasing pressure to decide how best to respond to climate change and associated global changes, there is a need to focus at least part of this effort on more applied research in direct support of decision making. In particular, research efforts are needed to explore response options and evaluate the costs and benefits of adaptation and mitigation. The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) was formed in 2002 to coordinate and direct U.S. efforts in climate change and global change research. The CCSP builds upon the decade-old U.S. Global Change Research Program (GCRP). Since its inception the GCRP has reported hundreds of scientific accomplishments and, together with other major international partners and programs, has been responsible for improving the understanding of climate change and associated global changes. The CCSP incorporates the GCRP and adds a new component—the Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI)—whose primary goal is to “measurably improve the integration of scientific knowledge, including measures of uncertainty, into effective decision support systems and resources” (CCSP, 2002, p.15). A draft strategic plan for the CCSP was released to the scientific community and the public in November 2002. At the request of the CCSP, the National Academies formed a committee to review this draft strategic plan; the results of this review are reported herein. The committee’s statement of task can be found in Appendix E of this report. STRENGTHS OF THE DRAFT CCSP STRATEGIC PLAN The committee commends the CCSP for undertaking the challenging task of developing a strategic plan. The current draft of the plan represents a good start to the process, particularly in that it identifies some exciting new directions for the program while building on the well-established foundation of the GCRP. Further, the CCSP has made genuine overtures to researchers and the broader stakeholder community to gain feedback on the draft strategic plan and how to improve it. These efforts indicate a strong interest on the part of the CCSP in developing a plan that is consistent with current scientific thinking and is responsive to the nation’s needs for information on climate and associated global changes. The CCRI portion of the plan introduces an admirable emphasis on the need for science to address national needs, including support for those in the public and private sectors whose decisions are affected by climate change and variability. For example, the discussion of applied climate modeling in the draft plan insightfully articulates a much-
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Planning Climate and Global Change Research needed new direction for U.S. climate-change modeling, reaching out beyond the “business as usual” approach of the GCRP to provide tangible decision support resources, particularly tested and trusted projections (or “forecasts”) of future climate. The draft plan correctly identifies the need to enhance research on options for adaptation to climate change. In addition, the plan appropriately recognizes that there are some short-term products that can and should be delivered by the program. The committee finds that the draft plan identifies many of the cutting-edge scientific research activities that are necessary to improve understanding of the Earth system. For example, the acceleration of research on aerosols and the carbon cycle is consistent with priorities of the scientific community. Indeed, the GCRP portion of the plan clearly builds upon the substantial and largely successful research programs of the last decade. The call for greatly improved observational capabilities reflects a well recognized priority for increasing understanding of climate and associated global changes. Further, the plan takes positive steps towards improved interdisciplinary research opportunities. Overcoming the substantial hurdles associated with the highly interdisciplinary nature of research on climate and associated global changes will continue to be a fundamental challenge for the program. In general, the draft plan provides a solid foundation for the CCSP. With suitable revisions, the plan could articulate an explicit and forward-looking vision for the CCSP and clearly identifiable pathways to successful implementation. Recommendation: The draft plan should be substantially revised to: (1) clarify the vision and goals of the CCSP and the CCRI, (2) improve its treatment of program management, (3) fill key information needs, (4) enhance efforts to support decision making, and (5) set the stage for implementation. CLARIFY VISION AND GOALS The committee found that the draft strategic plan lacks the kind of clear and consistent guiding framework that would enable decision makers, the public, and scientists to clearly understand what this research program is intended to accomplish and how it will contribute to meeting the nation’s needs. The draft plan lacks most of the basic elements of a strategic plan: a guiding vision, executable goals, clear timetables and criteria for measuring progress, an assessment of whether existing programs are capable of meeting these goals, explicit prioritization, and a management plan. Many candidates for vision and goals are scattered throughout the draft strategic plan and in references to other documents, yet neither an explicitly stated vision nor a coherent set of goals are consistently presented. The draft plan lists a multitude of proposed activities, but does not identify which of these activities are higher priorities than others (either across the CCSP as a whole or within individual program areas of the CCRI or the GCRP) nor does it provide an explicit process for establishing such priorities. Finally, the plan lacks the kind of straightforward comparison of current programs to projected needs that will be essential to guide the plan’s implementation. A systematic and coherent strategic plan is especially necessary when, as in the CCSP, the institutional environment is diverse and fragmented and when the program involves new directions and collaborations. Such a plan would provide a common basis for planning, implementation, and evaluation and would protect against a continuation of the status quo. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should articulate a clear, concise vision statement for the program in the context of national needs. The vision should be specific, ambitious, and apply to the entire CCSP. The plan should translate this vision into a set of tangible goals, apply an explicit process to establish priorities, and include an effective management plan. The revised strategic plan also must present clear and consistent goals for the CCRI. The draft plan states that to be included in the CCRI, a program must produce both significant decision or policy-relevant deliverables within two to four years and contribute significantly to one of the following activities: improve scientific understanding; optimize observations, monitoring, and data management systems; and develop decision support resources. The decision support activities described in Chapter 4 of the draft plan are generally consistent with the above criteria. In fact, the committee considers the CCRI’s emphasis on scientific support for decision makers one of the most promising and innovative features of the draft plan. Unfortunately, the plan’s descriptions of decision support as a two to four year activity give the false impression that decision support is needed only in the near-term. While short-term deliverables are possible in this arena, decision support also will be needed as an ongoing component of the program. In addition, many of the activities described in Chapters 2 and 3 of the draft plan are not consistent with the CCRI focus on decision support and are not likely to produce deliverables within four years. This is not to say that these activities are unimportant, but simply that they are not consistent with the goals for CCRI as given in the draft plan. The committee believes that it is important for the program to correct these inconsistencies while maintaining a strong emphasis on near-term, ongoing decision support in the CCRI. The revised strategic plan also needs to describe more clearly how the research activities included in the GCRP support the decision support needs of the CCRI. Indeed, there should be a “rolling linkage” between the two programs, with CCRI objectives periodically redefined as a result of new scientific input from the GCRP.
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Planning Climate and Global Change Research Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should: (1) present clear goals for the CCRI and ensure that its activities are consistent with these goals; (2) maintain CCRI’s strong emphasis on support for near-term decisions as an ongoing component of the program; and (3) include an explicit mechanism to link GCRP and CCRI activities. IMPROVE PROGRAM MANAGEMENT The management of an interagency program involving 13 agencies, each with a separate mission and a long history of independent research on climate and associated global changes, is a challenging task. The GCRP has been criticized in the past for being unable to do much beyond encouraging multi-agency cooperation and support because it lacked the authority to redirect long standing programs and mandates of individual agencies. The creation of a cabinet-level committee with the authority to shift resources among agencies to meet the goals of the CCSP is an improvement over past approaches to managing the GCRP. However, the interagency approach to managing the program may not be enough to ensure that agencies cooperate toward the common goals of the CCSP because no individual is clearly identified in the draft plan as having responsibility for managing the program as a whole. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should describe the management processes to be used to foster agency cooperation toward common CCSP goals. The revised plan also should clearly describe the responsibilities of the CCSP leadership. The plan does not describe the responsibilities and authorities of contributing agencies, such as which agencies will be responsible for implementing the work. Defining responsibilities is particularly important for new areas of research that have not been significant program elements of the GCRP in the past, such as land-use and land-cover change and decision support. It is also important for crosscutting research elements, notably water cycle and ecosystems research, which are carried out within multiple agencies. Another management challenge for the CCSP is to foster the participation of mission-oriented agencies in the strategic planning process. The committee believes that mission-oriented agencies—such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, water resources and land management agencies within Department of the Interior, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the extension and farm program agencies within U.S. Department of Agriculture—could make important contributions to identifying research needs, collaborating on research problems, and testing research and modeling results. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should more clearly outline agency responsibilities for implementing the research. In addition, the CCSP should encourage participation of those agencies whose research or operational responsibilities would strengthen the ability of the program to deliver products that serve national needs. The Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP) is an interagency program parallel to the CCSP and created to coordinate and develop technologies for stabilizing and reducing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. The committee is concerned that the existing management and program links between the CCSP and the CCTP may not be extensive enough to take advantage of the synergies between these two programs. This may be due in part to the CCTP’s early stage of development. Generally speaking, a program to define and understand a massive problem (i.e., the CCSP) and a program to develop options for solution to the problem (i.e., the CCTP) should be guided by a common strategy. At the very least the results from each program should be used as extensive guidance for the project portfolio of the other. For example, technology options should be pursued for the highest-risk problems and informed by the most robust knowledge of those problems. Likewise, the global change effects of implementation of various solutions (e.g., sequestration impacts) should be identified and studied as an integral part of technology programs. Recommendation: The CCSP should assess the scientific implications of technologies under consideration by the CCTP and develop realistic scenarios for climate and associated global changes with these technologies in mind. The program management chapter of the revised CCSP strategic plan should clearly describe mechanisms for coordinating and linking its activities with the technology development activities of the CCTP. The plan currently describes scientific planning committees that will be composed of independent experts to help the agencies plan specific program elements, as has been done for the carbon cycle, the water cycle, climate observations, climate modeling, and elsewhere. The committee supports this approach. Nonetheless, the committee believes that the most difficult research management challenges will occur at the level of the CCSP program itself. Scientific and other stakeholder guidance will be needed for the whole program to establish and communicate clear priorities, evaluate progress toward meeting the overarching goals, and ensure that the inevitable trade-offs in resources and allocation of time are done so as to meet the overall program goals. Otherwise, the individual needs and priorities of the agencies will tend to take precedence over the needs of the entire program. Recommendation: The CCSP should establish a standing advisory body charged with independent oversight of the entire program.
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Planning Climate and Global Change Research FILL KEY INFORMATION NEEDS The committee identified several weaknesses in the draft strategic plan that need to be addressed if the CCSP is to meet the nation’s needs for information on climate and associated global changes. First, there is now a strong need to augment the GCRP research of the last decade, which focused on national- to global-scale phenomena, with research that applies an understanding of the global scale to developing an understanding of the variability and change unique to regional scales. Such information would be useful to international, federal, state, and local decision makers facing environmental problems, including drought, flooding, or other climate impacts. Insufficient detail is provided in the draft plan about how current work on large-scale climate models will be adapted and combined with information to address regional issues and seasonal-to-interannual timeframes. Particularly important and challenging will be analyses and modeling of future regional climate and related effects on social, economic, and ecological issues. The need to develop regional research products is not adequately emphasized throughout the strategic plan or integrated through all program elements. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should more fully describe how models and knowledge that support regional decision making and place-based science will be developed. The next decade of research must also support an increase in understanding the potential impacts of climate change on human societies and ecosystems, and related options for adaptation and mitigation. The need for research and applications in these areas logically follows from the CCSP’s new emphasis on decision support. The plan’s treatment of human dimensions and ecosystems, however, has several important gaps. It lacks research into consumption, institutions, and social aspects of technology as causes of climate and associated global changes. Further, the draft plan does not propose any research into the costs and benefits of climate change and related response options. Finally, the research plan for ecosystems needs a more cohesive and strategic organizational framework that places a clear priority on predicting ecosystem impacts and on providing the scientific foundation for possible actions and policies to minimize deleterious effects and optimize future outcomes. The committee finds that, while the draft strategic plan does address these topics to some extent, its coverage is insufficient to provide adequate input into the models and analyses necessary to reduce or clarify uncertainties, or to meet current and anticipated needs of decision makers. Recommendation: The revised plan should strengthen its approach to the human, economic, and ecological dimensions of climate and associated global changes to ensure it supports the research necessary to project and monitor societal and ecosystem impacts, to design adaptation and mitigation strategies, and to understand the costs and benefits of climate change and related response options. The draft strategic plan does a better job of identifying links between chapters and crosscutting themes than in the past, but, overall, the coordination among many individual program components is poor. Examples include the generally weak integration of the human dimensions, ecosystems, and water cycle issues across the plan; the nearly complete disconnect among the atmospheric composition, ecology, and land-use and land-cover chapters; and the uneven consideration of the role of the ocean in climate. The draft plan also does not adequately consider the interactions and synergies of climate change with other global changes. Climate change operates in concert with other significant changes, such as those related to land-use dynamics and hydrological cycles. Therefore, most scientists and decision makers typically do not find themselves dealing with climate change in isolation but rather as one of many factors affecting the people, economy, and ecosystems of an area. Recommendation: The CCSP should strengthen the treatment and integration of crosscutting research areas in all substantive chapters. The revised strategic plan should address the interactions and synergies of climate change with other associated global changes. The draft plan makes repeated reference to the global climate observing system, and yet to date the system is only a patchwork of observational networks maintained by various agencies within the United States and by other nations. Careful planning and major investments are needed to maintain and expand an integrated observing system that will support monitoring and modeling of climate and associated global changes. A critical weakness in the draft plan is that it does not adequately explain how existing observation systems will be integrated with a plan for expansion of them to add key climate-related ecological, biogeochemical, geophysical, and environmentally relevant socio-economic measurements. Especially for systematic integrated measurements, interagency and international cooperation could bring major advances. An integrated global climate observing system should also have a plan to make scientific products widely available in useful formats for climate-system researchers and for decision makers, to ensure continuity of observations, and to accommodate flexibility in response to changing scientific questions and societal needs. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should better describe a strategic program for achieving an integrated observing system for detecting and understanding climate variability and change and
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Planning Climate and Global Change Research associated global changes on scales from regional to global. The committee believes that the draft plan misses an opportunity to develop a forward-looking strategy for improving international research and observation networks, exchanges of knowledge, and joint assessments. There is little discussion in the draft plan of how and whether the CCSP will participate in such international efforts. The overall sense of insularity in the plan could hinder efforts to improve linkages with the international community. International collaboration is especially valuable for building better in situ calibration and validation of satellite observations, for obtaining more globally distributed measurements, and for building synergy and reducing redundancy in the deployment of observation assets. Scientifically, there is a danger that the emphasis on U.S. issues and resources in the plan will result in agencies choosing not to work in geographic regions outside the United States that are significant for understanding particularly important processes. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should clearly describe how the CCSP will contribute to and benefit from international research collaborations and assessments. A manifestation of the general insularity of the draft plan is that it fails to place sufficient weight on the need for the global and long-term historical context in observing, understanding, modeling, and responding to climate variability and change. This lack of context is not consistent with the global and long time-scale research perspectives of many climate scientists. The plan does not take into account, for example, how climate variability and change in North America is influenced by global variability involving the land surface, atmosphere, ocean, and cryosphere in regions remote to North America. A better presentation in the plan of the time and space scales associated with climate change also would point to the value of paleoclimate data as a descriptor of past natural variability. Recommendation: The global and long-term historical context of climate change and variability should receive greater emphasis in the revised strategic plan. STRENGTHEN DECISION SUPPORT CAPABILITY The committee views the definition and development of decision support resources as a critical short-term goal of the CCSP. Although the draft strategic plan has incorporated general language about decision support in many places, it is vague about what this will actually mean. The draft plan fails to adequately distinguish between research to develop new decision support tools and understanding on the one hand, and operational decision support activities, on the other. It then does not successfully identify state-of-the-art undertakings in both. A significant problem with the draft plan is that an explicit connection to decision-making problems—both anticipated decision-making needs and past experiences—is absent. Indeed, the plan does not recognize the full diversity of decision makers and does not describe mechanisms for two-way communication with stakeholders. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should identify which categories of decision makers the CCSP serves and describe how the program will improve two-way communication with them. The revised plan also should better describe how decision support capabilities will be developed and how these efforts will link with and inform the program’s research to improve understanding of climate and associated global changes. The draft strategic plan’s description of applied climate modeling is quite insightful, reasonably well focused, and well grounded with respect to the priorities for climate modeling research and applications over the next decade. Even so, the treatment of this topic does not adequately address several substantial challenges to meeting the ambitious goals it sets forward: (1) the optimistic, and likely unrealistic, objective of fully understanding cloud feedbacks and therefore significantly reducing climate sensitivity uncertainties within two to four years; (2) the challenge of making connections between the applied climate modeling results and the climate-impacts research community, and on to policy makers, resource managers, and other consumers of climate-change information; (3) how the current modeling community’s efforts will support multiple objectives (e.g., producing scenarios for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, reducing climate sensitivity, evaluating regional impacts); (4) the lack of new resources to build the needed supercomputing and human resource capacity; and (5) the limitations of existing observation records for testing models. Recommendation: The discussion of applied climate modeling should be revised to better describe how models will be incorporated into the broader suite of decision support activities and to better address the key challenges to attaining the applied climate modeling goals set forward in the plan. The draft strategic plan identifies the reduction of uncertainty as a top priority for the CCSP and the CCRI. It recognizes three important points about uncertainty: (1) uncertainty is inherent in science and decision making and therefore not in itself a basis for inaction; (2) decision makers need to be well informed about uncertainty so that decisions can be made more knowledgeably; and (3) accelerated research should focus on those uncertainties
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Planning Climate and Global Change Research that are important for informing policy and decision making. Unfortunately, having recognized these principles of decision making under uncertainty, the draft plan does not apply a systematic process to identify the key scientific uncertainties and to ascertain which of those are most important to decision makers. Thus, the plan’s research objectives intended to address decision making under uncertainty are not necessarily those of optimum use to decision makers. Further, the plan does not adequately articulate the utility of better characterizing uncertainty. The draft plan also does not build upon existing knowledge in the areas of risk estimation, assessment, perception, communication, and management. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should identify what sources and magnitudes of reductions in key climate change uncertainties are especially needed and where an improved characterization of uncertainty would benefit decision-making, and should use this information to guide the research program. The draft strategic plan does not adequately use many prior assessments and consensus reports that have provided scientific information to decision makers. While the plan does refer to some of these reports with regard to scientific issues relating to the physical climate, it fails to build upon past experience in applied climate studies, including regional impacts, or in interactions with a wide range of user communities. In these facets the plan must build on lessons learned from the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Climate Variability and Change, the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Meteorological Organization/United Nations Environment Programme ozone assessments, and other environmental assessments. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should build upon the lessons learned in applied climate studies and stakeholder interaction from prior environmental and climate assessment activities. SET THE STAGE FOR IMPLEMENTATION The draft strategic plan calls for a multitude of research and decision support advances, including a greatly strengthened climate modeling infrastructure to address local, regional, national, and international needs; increased collaboration on key scientific challenges; a significantly upgraded global climate observing system that includes climate-quality data management; and a suite of sophisticated informational products for decision makers who in many cases are new to climate change science. It is not apparent that the CCSP has carefully evaluated the size, scope, and training of the appropriate researcher and stakeholder communities that will be needed to address these issues or how best to take advantage of those resources that do exist. The committee believes that the CCSP faces major challenges in “capacity building”: systematically developing institutional infrastructure; growing new multidisciplinary intellectual talent; nurturing “networking” of diverse perspectives and capabilities; and fostering successful transition from research to decision support applications. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should explicitly address the major requirements in building capacity in human resources that are implied in the plan. Another type of capacity building is necessary to acquire the computing, communication, and information management resources necessary both to conduct the extensive climate modeling called for in the draft strategic plan and to process and store the large amounts of data collected from a greatly expanded observation network. Applied climate modeling and especially the crucial regional-to-global scale climate change scenarios will require substantially enhanced supercomputer power. Improvements realized in research models need to be tested before transition to operational models; this testing requires substantial computing resources. The draft plan says nothing about what these computing requirements might be or how the CCSP might obtain them. Recommendation: The revised strategic plan should provide details about how the CCSP will acquire the computing resources necessary to achieve its goals. Because the draft strategic plan does not include details about present and projected levels of support for each program element and because the fiscal year 2004 budget request was not available to the committee during its deliberations, the committee had limited information to evaluate whether the “results and deliverables are realistic given available resources,” one of its task statements. However, it is clear that the scope of activities described in the draft strategic plan is greatly enlarged over what has been supported in the past through the GCRP. Implementing this expanded suite of activities will require significant investments in infrastructure and human resources and therefore will necessitate either greatly increased funding for the CCSP or a major reprioritization and cutback in existing programs. Shortly after this report entered National Academies review, the President’s fiscal year 2004 budget request was made publicly available. It includes $182 million for the CCRI (compared to the fiscal year 2003 budget request of $40 million) within a total CCSP budget request of $1749 million (compared to the fiscal year 2003 budget request of $1747 million). The committee has not had the opportunity to analyze the fiscal year 2004 budget request in detail. Even so, a cursory review of the proposed budget indicates that the CCSP has chosen to increase funding for CCRI at the expense of existing GCRP program elements (or simply
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Planning Climate and Global Change Research relabeled some activities previously considered part of the GCRP as CCRI activities) and has shifted funds from one agency to another. Even if program funding increases, CCSP management will continue to be faced with many funding decisions, such as which new programs should be initiated (and when), whether any existing programs should be scaled back or discontinued, how to balance short-term and longer-term commitments, and how to balance support for international and U.S. programs. These resource allocation decisions must be based on the goals and priorities of the program, which should be clearly described in the revised strategic plan. The independent advisory body recommended by the committee also should be used to inform such decisions. The committee believes it is essential for the CCSP to move forward with the important new elements of CCRI while preserving crucial parts of existing GCRP programs. Recommendation: The CCSP should use the clear goals and program priorities of the revised strategic plan and advice from the independent advisory body recommended by the committee to guide future funding decisions.
Representative terms from entire chapter: