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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate 1 The Need for Climate-Related Decision Support There is a growing need for information and for more effective ways to support climate-related decisions in both the public and private sectors as a result of the now rapid changes in Earth’s climate. Government agencies, private organizations, and individuals increasingly find themselves unprepared at a fundamental level for meeting the challenges and opportunities of climate change. Many of their usual practices and decision rules—such as how bridges are built, which zoning rules are implemented, how much private motor vehicles are used, and so on—assume stability of climatic conditions, including the continuation of historical patterns of variation and the likelihood of extreme events. This assumption of “climate stationarity” has been fundamental to the ways people and organizations think about their choices, but it is no longer valid. Moreover, climate will continue to change—and at the same time, social and economic changes are altering the vulnerability of different regions and sectors of society to climate change, as well as their ability to cope with climate change. These realities are making some long-established practices and decision rules counterproductive. However, decision makers do not know how much standard practices are likely to cost in a changing climate, which changes in those practices would make things better, and by how much. They need new kinds of information, as well as new ways of thinking, new decision processes, and sometimes new institutions, to function effectively in the context of ongoing climate change. Human societies have historically adapted to their climatic settings, as exemplified by the use of dams of the western United States to store water during periods of low streamflow, farming practices that match crop
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate varieties to growing seasons, and architectural styles matched to patterns of temperature and precipitation. As climates change, societies face new challenges of varying severity. The indigenous peoples of the Colorado Plateau centuries ago and, more recently, the farmers of the “dust bowl” in the 1930s experienced climatic shifts that dramatically transformed their economies, settlement patterns, and governance structures. And as societies and their technologies change, the trajectory and effects of climate change are affected. For example, the technology of air conditioning as indoor climate control has fostered the development of the U.S. sunbelt, a region now facing climate-driven challenges of droughts and depleted water supplies. Air conditioning has also increased U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. THE CHANGING CLIMATE The climatic changes of the past 10,000 years have occurred in a context of remarkable stability in the average temperature of Earth, which experienced variations of less than 1° Celsius in this period. Since the advent of the industrial revolution (about the mid-nineteenth century), when fossil fuels became the primary source of energy for economic growth and societal development, the climate state has been changing from this stable condition. It is expected soon to reach a global average temperature unprecedented in recorded history, as depicted in Figure 1-1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2007a) projects that the planet will warm substantially in the coming decades as a result of the current concentrations of greenhouse gases and expected future emissions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that in 2007, the global concentration of atmospheric CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions increased by 2.4 parts per million by volume (ppmv) to a level of 385 ppmv (see http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2008/20080423_methane.html). If emissions continue at the 2007 level for a generation, atmospheric CO2 concentrations would increase to about 450 ppmv, a level that would, if maintained over time, lead to a stabilized global average temperature 2° Celsius (or slightly more) higher than preindustrial levels, according to the best available scientific estimates (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007a). Although scientists cannot predict the precise level of temperature change, there is now a clear consensus that the resulting temperature will be considerably higher than anything experienced in the past 10,000 years. Even if the rate of emissions could be globally reduced to near zero, the result would still most likely be a global average temperature of about 1° Celsius higher—still more than ever in recorded history—due to the heat-absorbing capacity of the oceans.
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate FIGURE 1-1 Average temperatures on Earth. SOURCE: Adapted from World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, and United Nations Environment Programme (2003:Figure 1-1). The consequences of a warmer Earth, although not precisely predictable, are already evident (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2003; Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 2005; National Research Council, 2008a) and are expected to increase across a range of areas vital to human well-being and the socioeconomic security of the United States (e.g., Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b; National Research Council, 2008b). The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) concluded (with confidence greater than 90 percent) that temperature increases, increasing CO2 levels, and altered patterns of precipitation are already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity (Backlund et al., 2008). There is also some evidence that more intense hurricanes are occurring more frequently globally (Webster et al., 2005; Chang and Guo, 2007; Holland and Webster, 2007; Kossin et al., 2007), and the scientific consensus is that such storms are likely to become more intense in the future (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007a). Climate change is also projected to have major effects on human health, water resources, ecosystems, and agriculture, as well as other systems and sectors (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b; Campbell-Lendrum, Corvalán, and Neira, 2007), and many of the
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate health effects of a changing climate are likely to fall disproportionately on poor, elderly, disabled, and uninsured people (U.S. Climate Change Science Program, 2008a). Climate change will affect water quantity and quality through changes in precipitation, runoff and stream flow, glacier and snowmelt, and increased temperatures. Both droughts and floods are projected to increase through an intensified hydrological cycle (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007a, 2007b). Climate change also threatens terrestrial, coastal, and marine ecosystems: the IPCC concludes with high confidence that climate change, combined with other global changes (e.g., in land use, pollution, and resource exploitation), will stress the ability of many ecosystems to adapt naturally if greenhouse gas emissions and other changes continue at or above current rates (Fischlin et al., 2007). The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2003) found that climate change is one of the principal threats to biodiversity on the planet. In sum, human activities are changing the climate globally, the predicted consequences of climate change are already observable around the world, the global average temperature will soon be higher than previously experienced in recorded history, and climatic changes and their consequences are likely to grow in magnitude. The changes are also occurring at a much faster rate than previously experienced in recorded history. THE END OF BUSINESS AS USUAL Climatic changes, and particularly the end of climate stationarity, present a major challenge for human decision making. Many past practices, routine ways of managing and coping, and apparently wise maxims garnered from experience will increasingly prove counterproductive, particularly in coping with climatic extremes. If a “once in a century” rainfall disaster in Iowa begins to occur once every few years, for example, a nearly total rethinking of many decisions will be required. Agricultural decision makers are already experiencing and having to come to terms with such uncertainty and volatility, sometimes by experimenting with new financial mechanisms or new technologies (International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-tech Applications, 2007; Henriques, 2008). Instead of following standard practices, individuals and organizations will have to consider whether practices that have helped them adapt in the past will remain effective in the future and whether they need to replace standards and practices that have been presumed permanent with ones that provide for reconsideration and updating. Box 1-1 provides an example of the problem. People will also need to consider whether to change practices that drive climate change, such as building cities on the assumption that people will travel in private fossil-fuel-powered motor vehicles.
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate BOX 1-1 Water Resource Systems Operation and Infrastructure Design For more than 25 years, the same standard methods have been used to estimate flood probability and frequency for flood plain mapping; in designing infrastructure systems, such as highway culverts, storm drains, and flood control systems; and for estimating the operational requirements of reservoirs and other engineered water resources systems. These methods underlie innumerable decisions by federal, state, and local governmental agencies and by thousands of private consulting companies providing services to communities. They rest in turn on statistical methods and guidelines established in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly on Water Resources Bulletin 17B (U.S. Geological Survey, 1981). The methods and guidelines are based on the assumption of climate stationarity. In particular, it is assumed that a hydrologic variable such as annual maximum flow has a time-invariant probability distribution whose parameters can be deduced from available observations. For example, the flood-frequency equations provided in the Highway Design Manual for the state of California are based on regional regression analysis of instrumental data from nearly 700 stations observing stream flow, calculated in the 1970s. The assumption of stationarity of such hydrologic variables has been questioned for some time, both because of the impact of human disturbances in watersheds (e.g., channel modifications, land-cover and land-use changes, drainage projects) and because of climatic changes affecting the intensity of storms and snowmelt events (see National Research Council, 1998a; Milly et al., 2008). Observations since the 1970s confirm the doubts about the adequacy of the equations, and the potential costs of water management systems that are inadequate for major floods are large. There is clearly a need to reevaluate and update the standard methods. Analysts have recommended revising the equations based on nonstationary probabilistic models. However, there is still no national, comprehensive program to modify the outdated standards of practice to incorporate climate and land-use change or to allow for periodic updating. Available scientific evidence supports three general observations about climate change that are especially worthy of note for decision making: Temperature and other climatic parameters are already outside the bounds of past human experience (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007a). Not only the averages, but especially the likelihood of extreme events, are already outside the bounds of experience. For planning and decision making, human society is already in terra incognita. Climate change is accelerating (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007a). As reported by the Global Carbon Project (2008):
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate Anthropogenic CO2 emissions have been growing about four times faster since 2000 than during the previous decade, despite efforts to curb emissions in a number of Kyoto Protocol signatory countries…. Emissions growth for 2000–2007 was above even the most fossil fuel intensive scenario of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (SRES-IPCC). So long as the human population is growing and per capita demand for fossil fuels and other resources continue to grow in a compound-interest fashion, this trend will continue. Climate-driven events that have been seen in recent decades are very likely to accelerate substantially in the decades ahead because of emissions trends and because the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere and ocean ensure that, on average, the long-lived greenhouse gases now being emitted will continue to affect the climate for hundreds of years. Climate change is therefore likely to continue to accelerate for many decades even if emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped in the near future. Recently experienced climatic events are not likely to serve as guides to what to expect next. One reason for this is that climate changes that are evident on large spatial and temporal scales are difficult to discern in any one location or over a few years against the ongoing background of variability. And because climate change and increases in extremes in weather are still accelerating, past observed rates of change in climate-driven events are likely to increase in the future, so that even broad averages of past or current observations will underestimate what lies ahead. These observations imply that, increasingly, practices and decision routines that assume the stability of historical patterns will be out of step with future climate, and so are likely to be suboptimal. Science can project with some confidence future average global temperatures; see Figures 1-2 and 1-3. Science can also project many of the consequences, as already noted. But these projections are not of a new stable state. They involve continuing change in climate averages and in the probabilities of extreme events over time. And they are uncertain in multiple ways: the estimated probabilities themselves are uncertain, especially on the tails of distributions, which include catastrophes; the direction of change for some important potential consequences remains unknown; and scientists recognize the nonzero probability that climate change may have important consequences for environmental or human well-being that they have not yet imagined or attempted to model. As a consequence of these factors, the best decision rules for the climate of today are very likely not the best decision rules for the decades ahead. With regard to human adaptation to climate, business as usual is at an end, even with aggressive and
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate FIGURE 1-2 Probability density function of global mean surface temperature change 1990–2100 from a Monte Carlo analysis of climate uncertainties. SOURCE: Adapted from Webster et al. (2003:Figure 6). FIGURE 1-3 Effects of climate warming on the frequencies of hot and record hot weather. SOURCE: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2001:Figure 2.32, 155).
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate successful mitigation. Decision makers are facing new choices, and accordingly, will need new kinds of knowledge and information from science. Conclusion 1: The end of climate stationarity requires that organizations and individuals alter their standard practices and decision routines to take climate change into account. Scientific priorities and practices also need to change so that the scientific community can provide better support to decision makers in managing emerging climate risks. Longer Time Horizons The changes in the climate system will require a longer-term view than is usual in most decision-making contexts. The need for a longer perspective is especially acute for decisions that are hard to readjust in the future, such as those about development policy, long-lived infrastructure, and programs and policies that alter the driving forces of climate change itself. A longer term perspective creates increased uncertainty as forecasting horizons exceed anyone’s comprehension or grasp (Ascher, 1979, 2004). Economic decisions heavily favor the near and immediate term, while climatic processes have strong momentum that carries them far into the future. The differences between what Wall Street analysts expect from a corporation in the next quarter and what oceanographers worry about decades or centuries from now could not be more pronounced. Recognition of the processes of climate change creates a new imperative to expand the time horizons of economic decision makers (Nordhaus, 1998). There are virtually no organizations that are designed to consider the consequences of current actions that will occur decades or centuries in the future. Nuclear energy production, which does not emit greenhouse gases, presents a clear example of such consequences because of the long-lived radioactive waste it produces. The nuclear energy industry has been plagued by the problem of designing institutions to manage waste disposal satisfactorily over the 10,000-year time frame often cited for safe disposal, and there has been some thinking about ways to handle the problem (e.g., National Research Council, 2000, 2001, 2003). The centuries-long time frames demanded by climate change, while not as long as this, are also poorly matched to present-day organizations and decision processes. When long-term decisions must be made with limited knowledge of a changing future, mistakes and unexpected consequences or surprises will be common. People and organizations need to be prepared to learn from both. It is important to observe, document, and extract lessons from experiences with long-term decisions around the world so the lessons can be adopted or modified for use elsewhere. For example, the Netherlands provides data on adaptation to coastal threats over a very long time. Bangladesh is also
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate adapting, but the specific decisions and actions taken in each place are not the same. The lessons to be learned from each might be modified and applied where the site characteristics are reasonably close analogues. Place-Specific Effects Climate change will have different effects in different locations and regions and on different ecosystems. These effects will be superimposed on place-specific aspects of social systems, such as characteristics of energy supply, human population change, water use, and the legal and institutional environment. Site-specific, sometimes unique, aspects of a place through time may be more important than general future trends. For example, the energy circumstances dominating the Ohio Valley create very different challenges and opportunities than those facing decision makers in the Pacific Northwest. Methods of making, understanding, and informing decisions that presume universal applicability are likely to lead to inappropriate decisions. Such “universal” approaches include some federal laws, as well as general organizational and decision rules based on profit maximization, risk aversion, altruism, or other human behavioral traits. Informing decisions for a changing climate will need site-specific and relevant baselines of environmental, social, and economic information against which past and current decisions can be monitored, assessed, and changed. Future decision-making success will be judged on how quickly and effectively numerous, ongoing decisions can be adjusted to changing circumstances and situational details. Many of the consequences of climate change affect regions or ecosystems—spatial units that rarely match the responsibilities of human organizations. For example, there are very few ecosystem-based or regional authoritative organizations in the world, although some exist: The Northwest Power and Conservation Council (see http://www.nwcouncil.org) integrates planning for fish and wildlife with electric power in the hydropower-intensive Pacific Northwest; Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority implements ecosystem-scale actions that include resource harvest as well as conservation activities associated with a park; and eight U.S. regional fisheries management councils (see http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/councils.htm) that are charged with governing fish have an ecosystem mandate under legislation passed in 2006, although it has not been fully implemented. The existing global organizations, such as the U.N. Environment Programme and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, are ill equipped to decide or enforce decisions. These mismatches of scale between climate change problems and the decision-making authorities that can seek solutions are a cause for concern and a foundation for the rest of this report.
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate Mitigation of carbon emissions illustrates the difficulties, because many long-term effects of emissions, such as flooding of low-lying islands and droughts in subsistence agricultural regions of developing countries, are felt in places far from where most of the emissions are produced and where most of the emissions reductions need to take place. In this case, reducing the effects of climate change in some places depends largely on choices and decisions that are made in other places. International coordination is needed to address such place-specific phenomena. Designing and operating situationally appropriate organizations are essential challenges. Moreover, individual organizations and networks of individuals and organizations will have to adapt and evolve in the new climate change regime. We return to the problems of adaptation, evolution, and learning in Chapter 3. Surprise as Normal The nature of climate change and the incompleteness of scientific understanding of its consequences mean that decision makers must expect to be surprised—probably with increasing frequency (e.g., “hundred-year” storms may recur every decade). Climate is an extremely complex system with innumerable parts and even more relationships among them: for instance, it is now clear that the species on Earth and their ecological relationships are shaped by past climate (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2003). Science has developed a general understanding of parts of the system—such as the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on global average temperature—but understanding other parts of the system is much less well developed, such as the effects of climate change on the spread of human, animal, and crop diseases. When climate changes in an ecological system such as a watershed, some species may adapt by moving while others lag behind or even die off (Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 2005), but these interactions are not well enough understood to predict which will occur. The more the climate system diverges from historical experience, the more the relationships between the parts of the system enter the realm of the unknown, where past scientific understandings may no longer hold. Decision makers must expect and prepare for surprises—the likelihood that the results of climate change will include events not now predicted by scientific models and even events not yet imagined by scientists. The surprises could include more (or less) rapid changes in environmental processes already linked to climate change or even the appearance of totally unexpected environmental or human-environmental phenomena that emerge from poorly understand relationships in complex physical or ecological systems. The challenges may prove manageable: Rapid technological change
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate in areas, such as medicine and communications, has spawned numerous surprises over the past century, and human institutions have been able to react to many of them in ways that benefit people and institutions. Through increasing environmental awareness and its accompanying institutions, people are already responding to the surprising realization that humans are changing the structure and functioning of the Earth at many scales. Climate Change in a Changing World As the climate is changing, human systems are changing and affecting their local environments. The results are that the human consequences of future climate change will be different from what those consequences would have been if they occurred in the current world. One important change will be an increase in the cost of fossil fuels as a result of increasing demand pressing against limited supply and as a result of regulation, taxation, or the imposition of cap-and-trade regimes. The futures of consumers of these fuels, manufacturers of energy-using equipment, and of producers of alternative energy supplies will depend on how well they anticipate the future costs. Changes in human systems also alter the effects of climate change. For example, the past few decades have featured U.S. population movements to the coasts, to urban areas, and to the arid Southwest—all regions that, for different reasons, are more vulnerable to climate change than the areas that the people left. Human demand for food from agriculture and fisheries and demand for fuel from forests and crops are increasing the vulnerability of food and water systems and other systems that produce essential commodities. The prospect of climate change is also resulting in increased investment in technologies to substitute for fossil fuels. The results of these efforts will alter the kinds of responses people will need to make to protect themselves against the adverse effects of climate change. The capability to respond to climate change is also changing. In the United States, for example, expected strains on governments create concern that emergency response, public health, and other systems that can help in responding to extreme climatic events will be less effective in the future than they have been in the past. For example, preparations for major storms are not only intricate, but also costly, and the strain on the resources of governments at all levels may affect emergency preparedness and response organizations. Because of these multiple concurrent changes, thinking about the climate future and how to cope with it needs also to take into account the simultaneously changing future of human systems and human-modified ecological systems.
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate Assessment of Consequences A high-quality decision includes efforts to estimate the anticipated consequences of each alternative in terms of agreed-upon measures. Confronting Tradeoffs A high-quality decision recognizes that conflicting objectives are in play and encourages explicit consideration of them. Several useful methods exist for helping people to reconcile complex tradeoffs, including methods of formal tradeoff analysis and decision structuring tools. In an uncertain and changing environment, it is also important for decision-making processes to be designed to adapt to changing conditions and information and to learn from experience. Thus, even though the information on which decisions affected by a changing climate are based may become less certain, it is possible—indeed, increasingly necessary—to work toward decisions of higher quality, making good use of the information that is available. Conclusion 2: 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 to effective decision-making responses to climate change. Decision makers have an increasing need for such information but cannot always get it on their own. Demand for Decision Support Over the past few years, a significant change has been occurring in thinking about climate change in the United States. More and more of the decision makers already concerned with climate change, including those in the federal government, have shifted their focus from the question of whether anthropogenic climate change is happening to questions about how to reduce the risks and take advantage of opportunities that climate change presents. Along with this shift has come a rapid increase in demand for climate-related decision support. Demand comes from federal government agencies such as NOAA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (evident by their request for this study), the National Park Service, the Forest Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Minerals Management Service, and the nonresearch parts of the Department of Energy. Some of the most urgently communicated needs stem from the recognition in federal agencies that they may soon be unable to fulfill their legal and regulatory responsibilities because of climate-related changes and from fear of litigation about those responsibilities. Demands for decision support are also
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate coming from Congress, from state and local coastal managers, from urban and regional water managers, and from nongovernmental conservation, community development, and social justice organizations. The panel has seen the growing demand in the remarks of participants in our workshops and in interviews and personal communications between panel members and senior executives in business organizations, state and local governments, and the nonprofit sector, and even in expressions of interest from citizens in relation to personal decisions. A few examples—on greenhouse gas emissions in California, coastal management, green products and services, climate change and drought, and court decisions—illustrate recent demands for decision support. Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in California Information on the consequences of climate change for the state was instrumental in the California legislature’s passage of AB32, a pioneering law that set state targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Legislators considered and requested information to compare the historic extent of Sierra Nevada snowpack loss to the present extent and projections under various global warming scenarios; project daily ozone formation in the Los Angeles and San Joaquin Valley areas under conditions of low and moderate global warming; project sea-level rise resulting from climate change, including maps of possible flooding at the San Francisco airport; project heat wave days and energy demand resulting from warming; and consider future forest fire risks and forest yields. Since enactment of the law, greenhouse gas reduction timetables have led state agencies to seek information on other activities and factors, such as energy consumers’ responses to various conservation programs, off-road vehicle usage, green building technologies, and the chemical properties of pavements. Coastal Management In anticipation of congressional reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Coastal States Organization surveyed its membership, which consists mainly of state and local coastal managers, and identified the following needs for mapping, monitoring, and research to support climate adaptation and assessment: inventories of features, conditions, and properties at risk; vulnerability assessments; cost-benefit and policy analyses;
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate projections of interactions between shoreline processes, storms, and sea-level rise; strategies for ecosystem impacts, monitoring, and response; models linking coastal inundation with detailed shoreline erosion; sea-level-rise scenarios with detailed local monitoring, storm regime and storm surge models, especially for hurricanes and extra-tropical storms; information about impacts of sea-level rise on coastal habitats, especially wetlands; information on the role of sea-level rise in beach renourishment planning; and support for risk and vulnerability assessment, cost-benefit analyses, and priority setting. Information was also sought on climate effects on invasive species, ocean acidification, ecosystem migration, and freshwater resources. Managers also expressed a desire to be more involved in research coordination. Lastly, a need was expressed for integration of socioeconomic dimensions of issues, including policy analyses for wetland restoration, shoreline protection and retreat strategies, and infrastructure siting; assessments of social, legal, and economic issues related to shoreline change management alternatives; and best practices, case studies, training, and workshops focused on local- and state-level vulnerabilities and implementation options for coastal management approaches (Coastal States Organization, 2008). Green Products and Services State and federal regulatory agencies, investors in green markets, and environmentally conscious consumers and businesses planners are increasingly seeking reliable, standardized, and accessible information about the climate impacts of specific products and technologies. In response, quantitative indicators of “life-cycle climate performance” are being calculated to measure the total effect of a product or technology on greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the indicator for an air conditioner would reflect both its direct emissions (e.g., from coolant leakage during manufacturing and transport, normal operation, accidental damage, maintenance, and product disposal or recycling) and indirect emissions (e.g., from energy use in its manufacturing, operation, disposal, or recycling). Such indicators require validation and standardization, which in turn requires substantial analysis of chemical and physical attributes of product components and of the behavior of actors all along the product chain.
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate Climate Change and Drought A recent report of the Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction of the National Science and Technology Council (2005), Grand Challenges for Disaster Reduction, found that among all natural hazards, droughts are the leading cause of economic losses, accounting for average annual losses of $6–$8 billion and affecting more U.S. residents than any other natural hazard. The report called for “a national instrument system capable of collecting climate and hydrologic data to ensure drought can be identified spatially and temporally” and “an integrated modeling framework to quantify predictions of drought and drought impacts useful in decision-making” (Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction, 2005:14). Such an instrument would necessarily support decisions about local, state, and regional responses to one key manifestation of climate change. In a similar vein, at a congressional hearing on H.R. 5136, the National Integrated Drought Information System Act of 2006, the Western Governors’ Association (Smith, 2006) testified that important physical and drought impact information is lacking. Information is needed at the local and state levels, in real time, and from centralized providers. In addition, the information needs to be in formats that are useful to water users—including farmers, ranchers, utilities, tribes, land managers, business owners, recreationalists, and wildlife managers—to plan for and mitigate drought impacts. Court Decisions In April 2007, in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court handed down its first decision explicitly focused on climate change. The Court supported the standing of states to sue the federal agency (EPA) on greenhouse gas emissions, found that the agency is authorized to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted by motor vehicles, and found that the agency is not authorized to subject such regulatory decisions to policy considerations. The decision gave EPA the responsibility to make scientific assessments of the effects of carbon dioxide from vehicle emissions on public health and welfare. Because these effects are in considerable part mediated by climate change, the agency will need to develop new analyses of the effects of climate change on health. Other litigation now in process may have similar implications. For example, one federal court is considering a claim that environmental impact statements required by the National Environmental Policy Act or by state law must consider climate-related impacts of proposed projects or agency actions. Such a decision could require agencies to develop information and analytic methods to measure greenhouse gas emissions from any project,
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate impacts on ecological carbon sinks, and the adaptive capacity of the relevant system to climate change (Gerrard, 2008). Another federal court is considering the claim that climate change must be considered in decisions under the federal Endangered Species Act. Such consideration would require detailed scientific analyses of the ecological effects of climate change, and it might also require consideration the economic costs of various strategies for reducing those effects. Many other examples could be given. Senior industry and business leaders often note the need for objective, credible, and open-source information and for institutions or processes to make them widely available to business, industry, government agencies, and others in the public and private sectors. Some corporations are now making decisions by using two parallel committees at the level of the chief executive office, both with equal power, to gather and assess information for decisions: one evaluates the economics and business efficacy of a proposed company action and the other evaluates its long-term sustainability for the company, society, and the environment. This decision process requires reliable information that includes characterizing the available knowledge and uncertainty about climate change and the likely implications of available responses. The panel recognizes that climate-affected decisions are affected by many considerations in addition to those discussed here and that climate-related information will often not be determinative in a given decision. However, such information will affect the decision tradeoffs in some settings, and in others, it may draw attention to standard procedures that deserve reconsideration. Thus, in several ways, climate-related information may help improve decisions by drawing attention to past decision processes and decisions that have become unproductive. GOALS AND SCOPE OF THIS STUDY As the above discussion illustrates, governments at all levels, businesses and other organizations, and individuals are increasingly seeing the need for knowledge and information to help them meet the challenges and opportunities of climate change. The needs arise for decisions at large scales—such as urban design—and at small ones—such as household choices about how to reduce energy consumption. They arise from the need for decisions that can limit the rate of climate change, as well as for decisions, large and small, that can alter the consequences or take advantage of the opportunities that arise from a changing climate. These emerging demands, as well as needs that have not yet become demands, led EPA and NOAA to ask the National Academies to conduct this study. The statement of task appears in Box 1-2. In requesting the
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate BOX 1-2 Statement of Task A study panel working under the Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change would elaborate a framework for organizing and evaluating decision support activities for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), with special attention to sectors and issues of concern to the sponsors. The panel would examine the objectives of decision support evident in the CCSP strategic plan and in the activities of key CCSP agencies. It would consider the range of relevant decisions, decision makers, decision contexts, and spatial and temporal frames. It would consider the strategies and activities now being used for organizing decision support efforts to meet such objectives, as well as other plausible strategies and applicable tools. As input to the panel’s deliberations, it would develop some illustrative case examples in sectors and issues of interest to the sponsors, such as local and regional management of drinking water supplies, waste water management, or coastal resource management. It would consider the fact that in some sectors, the desired outcomes of decision support activities may not be clear in advance. The panel would consider such decision support objectives as: identifying decision makers’ important information needs that could be met by scientific efforts of the CCSP; making scientific information about change in climate and related environ mental systems more understandable to decision makers; making relevant scientific information more accessible to decision makers; inducing decision makers in potentially affected sectors to use relevant scientific information, including information about scientific uncertainties; improving communication between producers and users of scientific information to close gaps between available and desired information; setting research priorities to increase the anticipated societal benefit of research results; implementing research programs so the outputs more effectively meet decision makers’ information needs, better inform their decisions, and promote societal values; and improving adaptive management in target sectors (that is, promoting decisions that are more successful at exploiting opportunities and minimizing risks associated with changes in climate and related environmental systems). The panel would consider these objectives and means to achieve them in light of decisions likely to be made over the coming years and decades in climate-sensitive sectors of interest to the sponsors and in light of scientific information that might lead to better-informed decisions and better societal outcomes in those sectors.
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate study, EPA and NOAA noted that the CCSP agencies1 generally would benefit from a clearer conceptual and operational framework for designing and evaluating decision support activities. They have asked the National Academies to provide “a framework for organizing and evaluating decision support activities for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, with special attention to sectors and issues of concern to the sponsors.” In response, the National Academies created this panel, operating under its standing Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change. Although this request is recent, the federal effort on climate change has long recognized the central importance of decision support for responding to climate change. It is clearly implied in the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990, which states that the purpose of the Act is to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” This recognition is even more explicit in the vision statement of the CCSP: “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 environmental systems” (U.S. Climate Change Science Program, 2003:3). In this vision, the ultimate objective of the entire program appears to be one of providing decision support. Study Process The panel met five times in 2007 and 2008, conducted numerous telephone conferences, reviewed relevant research and interacted with a number of decision makers affected by climate change to get a better understanding of their situations, concerns, and information needs. We focused especially on sectors and issues of concern to EPA and NOAA, the cosponsors of this effort, but we also examined concerns across the federal, state, and local governments, among businesses and industry, and among nonprofit organizations. We sought information on climate-affected decisions and decision makers from the sponsoring agencies, in interviews with participants in various climate-affected decisions, and in two day-long workshops in which we interacted with key climate-affected decision-making groups (see Appendix C for a list of participants). These interactions and the experiences of our informants and their organizations aided our understanding of 1 They are the Agency for International Development, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce (including NOAA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology), the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, the Department of Health and Human Services (including the National Institutes of Health), the Department of State, the Department of the Interior (including the U.S. Geological Survey), the Department of Transportation, EPA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution.
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate the expanding range of climate-affected decisions and the met and unmet societal demand for climate-related decision support. We drew on these experiences as sources of practical knowledge about effective strategies and methods for decision support. We also sought insight from theory and research in the decision sciences, as well as experience in other fields in which scientific information has been developed, characterized, and discussed with the aim of contributing to practical decisions. Researchers and practitioners in these fields, which include agricultural extension, risk and hazard management, public health, and environmental communication, do not typically refer to what they do as decision support. Nevertheless, their work offers valuable insights into how to conceptualize and organize decision support in the context of climate change. We also examined research on climate-related decision support efforts and research on ways that decision makers and providers of decision support can learn and adapt in the face of a changing environment. Scope of the Study Decision support is a policy strategy that relies on communication and information to facilitate action. It provides a vital complement to policy strategies that generate change through regulations, technology, and infrastructure development, or financial incentives. The characteristics of climate change make information and communication critically important as policy instruments. For example, climate change is likely to generate events that will require quick and distributed decision making that is sensitive to local conditions and to changing climatic events and national policy concerns. The study concerns ways to better inform decisions made by individuals and organizations whose futures may be affected by climate change (thus, decisions related to adaptation) or whose choices may change the course of climate change (decisions related to what is often called mitigation). It seeks to develop strategies and methods that federal agencies and others may use to better inform these decisions or to facilitate actions by others to better inform these decisions. Our analyses, conclusions, and recommendations are addressed to EPA and NOAA (the sponsors of the study), to the participating agencies in the CCSP, to other federal agencies (e.g., natural resource management agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service), and to the extent possible, to state and local governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and individuals. We recognize that much of the nation’s response to climate change is occurring outside the federal
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate government—in state and local governments, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and households—that this will continue to be the case, and that in many ways distributed responses to climate are necessary and appropriate. Thus, we offer recommendations to federal agencies and to all other providers of decision support regarding effective ways to serve the constituencies for which they offer decision support. We also offer recommendations to federal agencies about ways to facilitate the provision of decision support by others. In developing our recommendations, we have carefully considered the appropriate federal roles in relation to the national need for decision support. We recognize that as climate change is experienced across the country, millions of decision makers—state and local governments and their agencies, large and small businesses, nonprofit organizations, and individuals and households—will need supporting knowledge and information. The federal government is not the only appropriate source of this knowledge and information, and in many cases it is not the best source for meeting specific decision makers’ needs. We have identified four appropriate roles for federal agencies in climate-related decision support. Our recommendations are made in relation to these roles: (1) constituency service, (2) international collaboration, (3) provision of public goods, and (4) facilitating distributed responses. Constituency Service Federal agencies can provide climate-related decision support services and products to themselves and to the constituencies they are bound by statute or mandate to serve. For example, EPA provides funds to states and localities to help them comply with requirements under the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts. EPA itself needs information in order to set priorities regarding where the greatest effort will be most needed to maintain air and water quality standards, and states and localities need decision support from EPA to help them consider their options for meeting those standards. Other federal agencies and offices, including many that are not now part of the Climate Change Science Program, have similar needs to provide climate-related decision support to themselves and their constituencies. Federal agencies may also provide decision support to climate-affected constituencies related to their mandates when the constituencies are unable to provide it for themselves. For example, major corporations and large public jurisdictions, such as the state of California and the city of New York, may be able to develop climate forecasts and mitigation and adaptation plans using their own technical and financial resources, but this is not true for smaller jurisdictions, small businesses, Native American tribal groups, and households, among others.
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate International Collaboration The federal government has the responsibility to link to and participate in international efforts related to climate decision support. For example, it participates in developing measures and monitoring systems for climate vulnerabilities that can be applied globally to assess the potential consequences of climate change and the avoided costs from various mitigation and adaptation actions. It also develops methods and data for international efforts to monitor greenhouse gas emissions, climate-related events and their human consequences, and the effects of mitigation and adaptation activities. Public Goods Federal agencies can provide decision support services and products that serve a public good that would not otherwise be provided. Examples include the development of indicators for monitoring climate change and its impacts, national maps of vulnerabilities to climate change, valid and reliable methods for measuring carbon emissions and emissions avoided, and updated standards for the design of transportation infrastructure to withstand extreme climate-related events. Much research also provides important public goods. It is appropriate for the federal government to support research to provide information that is needed throughout the country for high-quality decision making about climate responses, as well as research on ways to provide decision support more effectively. Observational systems and human resource development are also public goods that federal agencies can help provide. Facilitating Distributed Responses Federal actions can catalyze and facilitate decentralized decision support efforts in state and local governments and in nongovernmental organizations. This can be done, for example, by funding demonstration projects and facilitating communication and learning between activities in different parts of the country. We note that federal agency actions can also impede effective decentralized action. In developing our recommendations, we have attempted to be alert to this possibility and to propose approaches we consider likely to be facilitative. The Report Following this introductory chapter, Chapter 2 defines some key terms, including decision support and decision support products, services, and
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Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate systems. It identifies the attributes of effective decision support that have been identified in research in the decision sciences in studies of efforts to make scientific information useful to decision makers in agriculture, public health, environmental risk management, energy conservation programs, and other applications. The chapter also identifies and explains the key principles of effective decision support and identifies key barriers to achieving effective decision support and ways to overcome them. Chapter 3 elaborates on one of the principles of decision support—that decision support systems should learn from experience, including from failures. It discusses four modes of learning and shows why an approach that we call deliberation with analysis, which integrates scientific information into a broadly participatory and iterative process of appraisal and reconsideration, is best suited to the kind of decision environment that is typical in responding to climate change. Chapter 4 turns from issues of process to those of knowledge and information needs. It sketches the great variety of information needs of decision makers that arise from the great variety of climate responses and the many considerations that arise in choosing among them. The chapter outlines the contours of the research needed and also identifies needs for observational systems, indicators, and a stronger workforce for understanding and providing decision support. Chapter 5 summarizes and integrates our main conclusions and recommendations.