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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate
continuing increase in the demand for such “decision support,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked the National Academies to undertake this study, to provide a framework and a set of strategies and methods for organizing and evaluating decision support activities related to climate change. In response to this charge, the Panel on Strategies and Methods for Climate-Related Decision Support examined basic knowledge of decision making; past experiences in other fields, such as hazard response, public health, and natural resource management; experience with early efforts in the climate arena; and input from a range of decision makers.
Our study found that climate change poses challenges not only for the many decision makers it will affect, but also for federal agencies and for the scientific community. The end of climate stationarity requires that organizations and individuals alter their standard practices and decision routines to account for climate change. Scientific priorities and practices need to change so that the scientific community can provide better support to decision makers in managing emerging climate risks. Decision support—that is, organized efforts to produce, disseminate, and facilitate the use of data and information in order to improve the quality and efficacy of climate-related decisions—is essential for developing responses to climate change. The information that is needed is not only about climate, but also about changes in social and economic conditions that interact with climate change and about the state of knowledge and uncertainty about these phenomena and interactions.
Considering the great diversity of climate-affected decisions and decision makers, it is useful to organize decision support around constituencies. We identify four roles for the federal government in climate-related decision support. Federal leadership is essential in serving the constituencies of federal agencies, participating in international efforts related to climate decision support, providing decision support services and products that serve a public good that would not otherwise be provided, and facilitating distributed responses to climate change. The last of these is important because central management is neither feasible nor effective for providing decision support for the many climate-affected constituencies in the nation. All four roles are consistent with federal responsibilities under the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990 and can be pursued under that mandate.
We found that the same core principles that characterize effective decision support in such areas as public health, natural resource management, and environmental risk management apply to informing decisions about responses to climate change.
Recommendation 1: Government agencies at all levels and other organizations, including in the scientific community, should organize theirdecision support efforts around six principles of effective decision sup-