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Introduction

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) was established in 2002 to coordinate climate and global change research conducted in the United States. Building upon and incorporating the U.S. Global Change Research Program of the previous decade, the program integrates federal research on climate and global change, as sponsored by 13 federal agencies and overseen by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Council on Environmental Quality, the National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget. A primary objective of the CCSP is to provide the best possible scientific information to support public discussion and government and private sector decision making on key climate-related issues. To help meet this objective, the CCSP is producing a series of synthesis and assessment products that address its highest priority research, observation, and decision-support needs. The CCSP is conducting 21 such activities, covering topics such as the North American carbon budget and implications for the global carbon cycle, coastal elevation and sensitivity to sea-level rise, trends in emissions of ozone-depleting substances and ozone recovery and implications for ultraviolet radiation exposure, and use of observational and model data in decision support and decision making. Each of these documents will be written by a team of authors selected on the basis of their past record of interest and accomplishment in the given topic. A list of the CCSP SAPs is provided in Appendix A.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the lead agency for CCSP Synthesis and Assessment Product (SAP) 5.2. NOAA’s stated purpose for SAP 5.2 is two fold (see Appendix B for full prospectus). The first purpose is to synthesize and communicate the current state of understanding about the characteristics and implications of uncertainty related to climate change and variability to an audience of policymakers, decision-makers, and members of the media and general public with an interest in developing a fundamental understanding of the issue. The second purpose is to provide recommendations for best practices for characterizing, analyzing, and communicating uncertainty for scientists, science managers and technical operational entities involved in conducting research and assessments, including, but not limited to, those participating in future CCSP assessment efforts. According to the guidance provided in the prospectus, SAP 5.2 is to be written in a style consistent with major international scientific assessments. To address these purposes and audiences, SAP 5.2 was given eight key questions to address (see Box 1).


In a review of the U.S. CCSP Strategic Plan, the National Research Council (NRC) recommended that synthesis and assessment products should be produced with



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Review of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program’s Synthesis and Assessment Product 5.2, “Best Practice Approaches for Characterizing, Communicating, and Incorporating Scientific Uncertainty in Climate Decision Making” 1 Introduction The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) was established in 2002 to coordinate climate and global change research conducted in the United States. Building upon and incorporating the U.S. Global Change Research Program of the previous decade, the program integrates federal research on climate and global change, as sponsored by 13 federal agencies and overseen by the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Council on Environmental Quality, the National Economic Council, and the Office of Management and Budget. A primary objective of the CCSP is to provide the best possible scientific information to support public discussion and government and private sector decision making on key climate-related issues. To help meet this objective, the CCSP is producing a series of synthesis and assessment products that address its highest priority research, observation, and decision-support needs. The CCSP is conducting 21 such activities, covering topics such as the North American carbon budget and implications for the global carbon cycle, coastal elevation and sensitivity to sea-level rise, trends in emissions of ozone-depleting substances and ozone recovery and implications for ultraviolet radiation exposure, and use of observational and model data in decision support and decision making. Each of these documents will be written by a team of authors selected on the basis of their past record of interest and accomplishment in the given topic. A list of the CCSP SAPs is provided in Appendix A. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the lead agency for CCSP Synthesis and Assessment Product (SAP) 5.2. NOAA’s stated purpose for SAP 5.2 is two fold (see Appendix B for full prospectus). The first purpose is to synthesize and communicate the current state of understanding about the characteristics and implications of uncertainty related to climate change and variability to an audience of policymakers, decision-makers, and members of the media and general public with an interest in developing a fundamental understanding of the issue. The second purpose is to provide recommendations for best practices for characterizing, analyzing, and communicating uncertainty for scientists, science managers and technical operational entities involved in conducting research and assessments, including, but not limited to, those participating in future CCSP assessment efforts. According to the guidance provided in the prospectus, SAP 5.2 is to be written in a style consistent with major international scientific assessments. To address these purposes and audiences, SAP 5.2 was given eight key questions to address (see Box 1). In a review of the U.S. CCSP Strategic Plan, the National Research Council (NRC) recommended that synthesis and assessment products should be produced with

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Review of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program’s Synthesis and Assessment Product 5.2, “Best Practice Approaches for Characterizing, Communicating, and Incorporating Scientific Uncertainty in Climate Decision Making” independent oversight and review from the wider scientific and stakeholder communities (NRC, 2004). To meet this goal, NOAA has requested an independent review of SAP 5.2 by the NRC. The NRC appointed an ad hoc committee composed of twelve members (Appendix C). The committee’s Statement of Task is included in Appendix D. The committee conducted its work by first carefully reading the draft SAP 5.2 report Best Practice Approaches for Characterizing, Communicating, and Incorporating Scientific Uncertainty in Climate Decision Making (draft dated October 16, 2006). The committee then met with the lead author to ask questions about the authoring team’s research and formulation of the draft document. During this meeting, the committee also interacted with NOAA and CCSP personnel, who outlined for the committee their expectations for SAP 5.2. An external panel of stakeholders, defined to mean people from organizations who might use information about uncertainty in their work, was invited to share additional perspectives on the draft document. This present document constitutes the committee’s review report, resulting from its careful study of the draft SAP 5.2 document and its interactions with those present at the aforementioned meeting. Herein the committee provides its review findings, and recommendations, suggestions, and options for the authors to consider in revising the draft SAP 5.2. In its review, the committee focused on substantive matters of content and did not proofread the document for grammatical or typographical errors. It became apparent during the discussions with the lead author, NOAA, and the CCSP that the draft SAP 5.2 document originated before the prospectus itself was finalized. In some respects this has led to an apparent disconnect between the final description of what the document should be and what the authors finally produced. This disconnect made the review especially difficult, as the committee was charged to respond to the extent to which the draft SAP 5.2 meets the various goals as outlined in the prospectus -- goals which may never have been articulated completely until after the document was essentially finished. In particular, the proposed audiences for the document appear to have been much expanded at some point in the process. However, the draft reviewed by the committee is written largely for an audience of those persons involved in assessment efforts. To address the additional intended audiences of such persons as “policymakers, decision makers, and [interested] members of the media and the general public” would require a significant investment in ongoing two-way effective communication between scientists and the members of these audiences. These additional audiences are of great importance, and need to be addressed; however, this appears to have been well outside the scope originally assigned to the authors. In order to address these and other concerns as outlined in this review, significant revisions of SAP 5.2 will be necessary. This review does not recommend specifically how to enact these revisions and meet the requirements for target audiences set forth in the prospectus. Options include greatly expanding the scope of the current document or producing a second, companion document to address the additional audiences.

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Review of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program’s Synthesis and Assessment Product 5.2, “Best Practice Approaches for Characterizing, Communicating, and Incorporating Scientific Uncertainty in Climate Decision Making” BOX 1-1 Questions to be Addressed by CCSP Synthesis and Assessment Product 5.2 According to guidance in the CCSP prospectus outlining the purpose of SAP 5.2, the report may be used as (i) a relatively sophisticated summary and assessment of the state-of-the-art understanding of the characteristics of uncertainty and the illumination of some potential approaches to decision making under such uncertainty, and (ii) decision analysis and social science-based guidelines for future CCSP assessment and decision-support activities and for researchers participating in broader assessment activities, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The key questions to be addressed by SAP 5.2 are: How is uncertainty estimated and measured? What are the sources and types of uncertainty that influence the way scientific information is communicated and understood by non-scientists? Why is an enhanced understanding of uncertainty important for communicating and utilizing climate information? What are some of the cognitive challenges in estimating uncertainty (e.g., the role of human judgment) and the relevance of these challenges to addressing climate? How is uncertainty analyzed, and how can it be applied in analyses of adaptation options? What are some effective methods for communicating uncertainty? How can decision-makers consider and incorporate uncertainty? What are considered to be the best practices for the incorporation and communication of uncertainty in scientific assessments?

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