Summary

Climate change is one of the most important global environmental problems facing the world today. Evidence of a changing climate is all around us, from rising sea level to retreating mountain glaciers, melting Arctic sea ice, lengthening growing seasons, shifting animal migration patterns, and other changes. Such changes are already having adverse impacts on people’s well-being, as climate change amplifies the effects of other environmental and socioeconomic changes and problems and produces new effects of its own. The long-lived greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere guarantee that warming will continue, even if emissions are drastically cut today. But emissions continue to grow as population and consumption increases. The rising demand for energy, transportation, and food are projected to further raise emissions of greenhouse gases.

Based on these trends, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the warming during this century will be in the range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C, and likely at or close to the upper level if aggressive actions are not taken to mitigate CO2 emissions. At a minimum, the coming decades will continue warming beyond what societies have experienced in the past, likely causing disruptive shifts in supplies of freshwater and food, increased degradation of land and ocean ecosystems, and new threats to public health, the economy, and national security. If the projected warming is abrupt,



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Summary C limate change is one of the most important global environ- mental problems facing the world today. Evidence of a changing climate is all around us, from rising sea level to retreating mountain glaciers, melting Arctic sea ice, lengthening growing seasons, shifting animal migration patterns, and other changes. Such changes are already having adverse impacts on peo- ple’s well-being, as climate change amplifies the effects of other environmental and socioeconomic changes and problems and pro- duces new effects of its own. The long-lived greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere guarantee that warming will continue, even if emissions are drastically cut today. But emissions continue to grow as population and consumption increases. The rising de- mand for energy, transportation, and food are projected to further raise emissions of greenhouse gases. Based on these trends, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that the warming during this century will be in the range of 1.5°C to 4.5°C, and likely at or close to the upper level if aggressive actions are not taken to mitigate CO2 emissions. At a minimum, the coming decades will continue warming beyond what societies have experienced in the past, likely causing disrup- tive shifts in supplies of freshwater and food, increased degradation of land and ocean ecosystems, and new threats to public health, the economy, and national security. If the projected warming is abrupt, 1

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2 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH as has happened at times earlier in the planet’s history, it could pose formidable challenges for adaptation measures. In the worst case, warming may trigger tipping points—thresholds for irre- versible changes in the way Earth’s climate operates and how human and ecological systems respond. Given this scenario, it is likely going to be a Herculean task to limit climate change to 2°C of warming from preindustrial levels as desired by many governments. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol was an important initial step toward attempting to manage greenhouse gas emissions at the international level. At the national level, nearly 80 percent of U.S. states have adopted or are preparing climate action plans, some of which include mitigation measures such as cap and trade programs. However, many policy decisions on mitigation and adaptation are being made without the scientific support that could help shape better outcomes. Robust and effective responses to climate change demand a vastly improved body of scientific knowledge, including observations and better understanding and predictions of the changing climate system, the human drivers of climate change, the response of the climate system to these drivers, and the response of society to climate changes. The research, observations, and modeling needed to develop the knowledge foundation for understanding and responding to climate change at the federal level is the responsibility of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). At the request of Dr. James Mahoney, then director of the CCSP, the National Research Council established a committee to carry out two tasks over a 3- year period. The report on the committee’s first task, Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results, was published in 2007 (NRC, 2007c). The second task—future priorities for the program—is the subject of this report: Task 2. The committee will examine the program elements described in the Climate Change Science Program strategic plan and identify priorities to guide the future evolution of the program in the context of established scientific and societal objectives. These priorities may include adjustments to the balance of science and applications, shifts in emphasis given to the various scientific themes, and identification of program

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SUMMARY 3 elements not supported in the past. A report identifying these future priorities will be prepared. The recommendations will specify which priorities could likely be addressed through an evolution of existing activities or reprogramming, and which would likely require new resources or partnerships. This report lays out a framework for generating the knowledge to understand and respond to climate change, and identifies priori- ties for a restructured climate change research program. A NEW FRAMEWORK TO MEET THE CHALLENGES OF CLIMATE CHANGE Dealing with climate change will be one of the biggest chal- lenges of the next century. The future (post-CCSP) climate change research program will play a key role by building knowledge, through sound science and incontrovertible observations, that in- forms decision making. However, meeting the needs of decision makers requires a transformational change in how climate change research is organized and incorporated into public policy in the United States. The traditional approach of organizing climate change research by scientific disciplines (e.g., atmospheric chemistry) or biophysi- cal processes (e.g., carbon cycle) has led to significant advances in our understanding of the climate system and the creation of a robust observations and modeling infrastructure. However, the paucity of social science research and the separation of natural and social science research within the CCSP, as well as the insuffi- cient engagement of policy makers, resource managers, and other stakeholders in the program are hindering our ability to address the problems that face society. Solving these problems requires research on the end-to-end climate change problem, from under- standing causes and processes to supporting actions needed to cope with the impending societal problems of climate change. Examples of societally-important issues where an end-to-end approach is needed include (1) extreme weather and climate events and disas- ters, (2) sea level rise and melting ice, (3) freshwater availability, (4) agriculture and food security, (5) managing ecosystems, (6)

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4 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH human health, and (7) impacts on the economy of the United States. Addressing these issues requires the integration of disciplinary and multidisciplinary research, natural and social science, and basic research and practical applications. The committee recommends that the program be restructured so that the existing CCSP research elements (e.g., atmospheric composition) and crosscutting themes (e.g., modeling, observa- tions) contribute directly, although not exclusively, to critical scientific-societal issues such as freshwater availability, extreme weather, and sea level rise. The goal should be to evolve the pro- gram in a way that maintains the current strengths of understanding and predicting climate change, while building the capability to achieve the CCSP’s vision of “a nation and the global community empowered with the science-based knowledge to manage the risks and opportunities of change in the climate and related environ- mental systems.” Such a restructuring around scientific-societal issues is required to help the program become more cross discipli- nary, more fully embrace the human dimensions component, and encourage an end-to-end approach (from basic science to decision support). It should also help the participating agencies better inte- grate their programs. TOP PRIORITIES The committee’s top six priorities, cast as actions for the re- structured climate change research program, are listed below. They are presented as a logical flow of actions, although work can begin on all of them simultaneously. All are necessary to establish a co- herent program that provides the scientific basis for understanding climate change and developing informed responses. Reorganize the program around integrated scientific-societal issues to facilitate crosscutting research focused on under- standing the interactions among the climate, human, and environmental systems and on supporting societal responses to climate change.

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SUMMARY 5 Societal concerns about climate focus on changes that are visi- ble now (e.g., melting ice) and the impacts of these changes (e.g., cost of long-term drought on agricultural production or the avail- ability of freshwater). Addressing such societal concerns requires a strong underpinning of observations and models, strengthened re- search across the board—particularly in the human dimensions of global change and in user-driven (applied) research that supports decision making—and increased involvement of stakeholders (e.g., federal, state, and local government agencies; the private sector; environmental organizations). Establish a U.S. climate observing system, defined as including physical, biological, and social observations, to ensure that data needed to address climate change are collected or continued. The satellite and ground observing systems that fueled our cur- rent understanding of the climate system are in decline, even as demand for data capable of detecting climate variability and change is growing. Sustained, multidecadal observations of physi- cal, biological, and social processes are required to document, understand, and predict climate change at the temporal and spatial scales relevant to federal, state, and local-level stakeholders and partner international programs. Consequently, the current satellite, land, ocean, and atmosphere observations of the climate system need to be continued and augmented. New observations are also needed—including those to support human dimensions research for developing and assessing mitigation and adaptation strate- gies—and existing human-social data need to be better organized and coordinated with physical climate observations to enable inte- grated social-natural systems research. Climate-related observations are made by different federal and state government agencies, often to meet their own monitoring re- quirements. Although an interagency working group is developing a list of high-priority observations, the CCSP has not yet adopted one. But even with a list of observation priorities, the CCSP lacks the authority to direct individual agencies to collect, modify, or maintain them. Rather than relying on the voluntary contributions of participating agencies, a more strategic approach to data collec- tion, distribution, and maintenance is needed—one that requires

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6 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH agencies to work together to design and implement a climate ob- serving system. Develop the science base and infrastructure to support a new generation of coupled Earth system models to improve attribu- tion and prediction of high-impact regional weather and climate, to initialize seasonal-to-decadal climate forecasting, and to pro- vide predictions of impacts affecting adaptive capacities and vulnerabilities of environmental and human systems. Further climate change is inevitable, even if humans signifi- cantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore essential not only to have the capacity to explain what is happening to cli- mate and why (attribution), but also to improve predictions of weather and climate variability at the spatial and temporal scales appropriate to assess the impacts of climate change. Both will re- quire improved infrastructure and techniques in modeling the coupled human–land–ocean–atmosphere system, supported by sus- tained climate observations. The latter are necessary to further develop and constrain the models and to start model predictions from the most accurate observed state possible (initialization). Tools are also needed to translate the data and model output into information more usable by stakeholders. Improved predictions of regional climate will also require more unified modeling frame- works that provide for the hierarchical treatment of climate and forecast phenomena across a wide range of space and time scales, and for the routine production of decadal regional climate pre- dictions at scales down to a few kilometers. New computing configurations will be needed to deal with the computational and data storage demands arising from decadal simulations at high resolution with high output frequency. Strengthen research on adaptation, mitigation, and vulnerability. Adaptation and mitigation strategies depend on an understand- ing of climate trends (including improved predictions of future climate change and extreme events), of differential vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities to climate impacts (including sensitivities and thresholds and barriers to adaptation), of economic costs and

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SUMMARY 7 dynamics, and of human behaviors, policy preferences, and choices; and on assumptions about the future availability of technologies for reducing emissions (including cobenefits and unintended conse- quences of mitigation). Yet the underlying human dimensions research needed to understand and develop sound adaptation strategies is a major gap in the CCSP. Although adaptation, mitiga- tion, and vulnerability research would be needed for all the societal issues in the proposed new research framework, an additional fo- cused research effort would help speed results. A critical step in the process is for agencies with appropriate expertise to increase fund- ing and take a leadership role in supporting, managing, and directing this research. Initiate a national assessment process with broad stakeholder par- ticipation to determine the risks and costs of climate change impacts on the United States and to evaluate options for responding. A comprehensive national assessment with periodic reporting provides a mechanism to build communication with stakeholder groups and to identify evolving science and societal needs and pri- orities. A useful assessment does not merely summarize published studies, but has the ability to undertake targeted research to pro- duce new insights, observations, models, and decision support services. Results of the assessment could be used to help determine priorities for federal research on impacts, mitigation, and adapta- tion; provide a focus for integrated science-policy assessments and enhanced regional modeling and predictions; and build human and institutional capacity to support decision making. Although the CCSP is mandated to carry out a national assessment every 4 years, the last one to involve a broad range of stakeholders was conducted a decade ago. From 2006 to 2008, the CCSP published 21 synthesis and assessment reports on a range of topics and an overarching synthesis. Although useful, the collection does not add up to a comprehensive national assessment. A new assessment will require strong political and scientific leadership, adequate resources, a careful planning process, and engagement of stakeholders at all stages of the process.

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8 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH Coordinate federal efforts to provide climate services (scientific information, tools, and forecasts) routinely to decision makers. Demand is growing for credible, understandable, and useful information for responding to climate change. A comprehensive approach to supporting decisions on climate change includes two- way communication with users to determine their information needs, provision of climate services, and research to support the services. Although a few pilot efforts are providing selected cli- mate services, a national program to monitor climate trends and issue predictions to support decision makers at multiple levels and in the various sectors has yet to be established. A national climate service should probably reside outside of the future climate change research program for a variety of reasons, including the potential to overwhelm the research program with myriad demands for special- ized services. Regardless of where the service is established, the restructured climate change research program would have to be involved in the research and development of experimental products (e.g., regional predictions), tools (e.g., models), and outreach ser- vices needed to support stakeholders. The climate service could then use the tools to create products operationally. Maintaining strong links to the research program would also help the climate service take advantage of new capabilities. PROGRAMMATIC AND BUDGET IMPLICATIONS Implementing the above priorities will require good leaders at all levels with the authority to direct budgets and/or research efforts. Of particular importance are strong, charismatic, scientifically respected leaders for the overall program (to advocate for program goals) and for the human dimensions (to help steer the program toward a more comprehensive view of the climate–human–environmental system). A successful program also requires strong support from the White House, particularly from the Office of Science and Technology Pol- icy to facilitate coordination with related federal programs, and from the Office of Management and Budget to secure funding for key priorities. The recent appointments of a climate czar and agency leaders interested in the climate-energy nexus create an opportunity

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SUMMARY 9 for carrying out the transformational climate-change research envi- sioned by the committee as well as for strengthening coordination of climate change science and technology across the federal gov- ernment. CCSP funding has been declining since its peak in the mid 1990s and funding in FY 2008 ($1.8 billion) was about 25 percent lower in constant 2007 dollars than it was at the peak. The commit- tee was asked to consider priorities under two budget scenarios: one that would require new resources and one that could be achieved through reprogramming of existing funds. Significant new resources would be required for a climate observing system, regional modeling, and user-driven research to support a national climate service. Some new resources could result from entraining additional agencies or agency programs into the restructured climate change research program, or by participating agencies in- creasing their allocation. The investments of state and local governments in adaptation and mitigation research may also be able to be leveraged to increase the overall research investment. However, these efforts would likely be insufficient to fully imple- ment the priority initiatives. Under the reprogramming scenario, important adjustments to the program can still be made. The cost to produce the 21 synthe- ses and assessment reports was about the same as the cost of the last national assessment. Therefore, a national assessment should be within the scope of existing agency funding. Program Office funds could be used to reorganize research around societal issues and to plan critical activities that are not yet funded. Key planning steps include prioritizing climate observations and scoping a na- tional climate observing system and a national climate service. Trades within the program can also be made to expand current ac- tivities and advance research on modeling, user-driven research, and adaptation, mitigation, and vulnerability research. For exam- ple, a comprehensive research effort on adaptation, mitigation, and vulnerability would require a substantial increase in funding, but since current funding levels directed toward this research are low, the total amount in the initial implementation phase would be rela- tively small. Although such reprogramming would be better than business as usual, it would be woefully inadequate for addressing the urgent

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10 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH need to improve our understanding of climate change and satisfy the growing demand for information and analysis to inform action. An inability to meet public expectations would compromise the effectiveness of the new climate change research program. Since the future costs of climate change are expected to greatly exceed the current cost of the federal program, investing now in climate change research should lead to reduced costs for responding, cop- ing with, and adapting to the consequences of climate change. Not investing is a choice we cannot afford to make.