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Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change 1 Defining Research Needs The federal government in 1993 adopted a more proactive attitude in environmental policy in general and in global environmental policy in particular. This policy change has led the government to undertake a major expansion in the scope of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to tighten the links between the basic science of global environmental change and the demands of policy makers for knowledge to inform their decisions. Our Changing Planet: The FY 1994 U.S. Global Change Research Program (Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences, 1993) describes the program change as follows: [T]he goal of this program expansion is to enable the U.S. government to conduct end-to-end (integrated) assessments of global change issues upon which sound policies can be identified, adopted, implemented, and maintained at regional, national, and international levels. End-to-end assessments will require the integration of basic research on Earth System processes with that on environmental and socio-economic impacts and effects studies and research on mitigation and adaptation strategies and technologies. “Global change,” in the context of USGCRP, is usually understood to include global climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, and loss of global biological diversity; other environmental changes that take place systemically at the global level, or that have global effects cumulatively, are sometimes included. Because integrated assessment requires a strong base
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Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change of knowledge about various kinds of human-environment interactions, the USGCRP agencies plan to increase significantly their support for research in areas relating to the human dimensions of global change. This report is addressed primarily to those U.S. government agencies. It begins a process by which advice from the relevant scientific communities can inform the agencies' decisions about research priorities that support the new policy priorities. We identify a few areas in which, in our judgment, focused incremental research efforts have the potential to yield significant increases in knowledge in the relatively near term that will contribute to the goal of improved integrated assessment. We also recommend a process for developing science plans and implementation plans for the future development of research in these areas. The decision that research should serve the need for integrated assessment implies that a criterion of practicality will be applied in research policy decisions. This report applies that criterion to identifying the knowledge that decision makers need about the environmental and social processes that the society may wish to anticipate, influence, or adapt to. Integrated assessment poses a major scientific challenge because it calls for the parallel and coordinated development of four kinds of research, only one of which has been a central focus of the U.S. program in the past. Research on earth system processes has been the centerpiece of the USGCRP from its inception. Research on ecological and socioeconomic impacts and effects of global environmental changes is a new emphasis of the program. Processes of human adaptation are central to research on impacts. The impacts that societies and their vulnerable subpopulations actually experience depend on the extent to which they can anticipate or adapt quickly to large or rapid environmental changes. Consequently, impacts research requires assessment of the vulnerability and of the robustness of social systems in the face of plausible large or rapid environmental changes. For example, the socioeconomic impact of a climate-induced drought will depend in part on the ability of social institutions to reallocate water supplies. Chapter 5 describes a recommended research focus on impact and vulnerability research; Chapter 2 and Chapter 6 recommend research foci that will develop needed knowledge on vulnerability and robustness. Research on policy options for mitigation and adaptation and on their costs and benefits is another new and difficult area. In order to analyze costs, benefits, and policy implementation processes, policy analysts require projections of the social and economic conditions under which a policy will have its effects. For example, if population growth and increasing affluence result in increased strain on the world food production system in the future, climate changes that occur a generation from now might have
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Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change high costs in the absence of policy interventions in the interim. Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 recommend research foci that analyze policy options for mitigation and adaptation. Chapter 2 and Chapter 6 recommend research that would improve the projections of social and economic conditions used in policy analysis. Research on methods for the integration of knowledge is the fourth type of research in the expanded U.S. program. Integrated assessment requires the development of methods for integrating knowledge that are sensitive to the fact that knowledge is more uncertain in some fields than others and to new developments in each area of knowledge to be integrated. It also requires building bridges between the worlds of scientists and policy makers. We address methods of knowledge integration indirectly at several points in the report, and we intend to address this issue more directly in the future. For the USGCRP to yield the knowledge needed for integrated assessment and to inform policy choices, each of these kinds of research is critical. Particularly important are projections of the social and economic impacts of future environmental changes, including analyses of the vulnerabilities of subpopulations. Such projections are valuable for comparing the costs of various policy options; evaluating policy options on sometimes neglected dimensions, such as how they will affect future demand for critical resources, future ability to adapt, and the vulnerability of subpopulations; and considering which policy options provide the best insurance against a variety of plausible environmental surprises. The term integrated assessment is sometimes used in a restricted sense, to refer only to the use of methods for integrating knowledge. We emphasize the importance of construing the research needs more broadly than that, because the value of improved methods for knowledge integration is inherently limited by the accuracy or uncertainty of the knowledge to be integrated. To achieve the purpose of the program expansion, it is necessary to strengthen scientific capabilities within the U.S. program, for example, in the areas of impact analysis, mitigation and adaptation, vulnerability analysis, and social and economic projection. This report identifies research foci that can build those capabilities. The program expansion challenges the scientific community and the agencies that implement it to develop knowledge simultaneously in several major substantive and methodological areas that are new to the program. The challenge is increased by the fact that each of these new areas depends on knowledge about the human dimensions of global change, a relatively underdeveloped sector of the USGCRP. The expansion also requires the integration of social science research with the natural science research that has until now formed the core of the U.S. program. This kind of integration
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Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change has been difficult in the past because of major structural barriers both in academia and government (National Research Council, 1992: Chapter 7). FIVE RESEARCH PRIORITIES The recent expansion in the scope of the USGCRP implies new research needs. In response, this report identifies five new priorities for research on the human dimensions of global change. We particularly emphasize research to improve basic knowledge essential for integrated assessments—knowledge that illuminates the ways social processes and institutions shape, respond to, and are affected by environmental change and the ways they interact with mitigation and adaptation policies. We have selected these particular research foci after considering several careful reviews that have identified major conceptual categories and developed lists of themes worthy of study in this field (Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Programme, 1994; Jacobson and Price, 1990; National Research Council, 1990a, 1992). We have paid particular attention to a draft white paper from an interagency group within the USGCRP (Cantor, Houghton, Kane, Scheraga et al., 1993), which makes reasonably broad suggestions of future directions on the basis of current activities within the program. We consider our recommendations to be an elaboration and focusing of ideas raised in the draft white paper. We considered the many fields outlined in these agenda-setting documents in the light of the ongoing and expanded needs of the USGCRP and of other decision criteria (Table 1). A list of possible priority areas was generated from these documents and from individual committee members' nominations and narrowed on the basis of a straw ballot and detailed discussion within the committee. The areas we have selected are those in which, in the judgment of the committee, incremental research efforts will be most effective in terms of building on existing work; contributing to the wider priorities and needs of the U.S. program, particularly for building the capacity for integrated assessment; and producing useful results in the next few years. We have also considered other criteria, including the ability of new research to link to natural science research programs within the USGCRP and to international research activities. Judged against the need for knowledge, the human dimensions of global change is a drastically underfunded field within the USGCRP. We believe that the ongoing work on human dimensions within the program is, in general, highly important and worthy of continued support. However, significantly increased human dimensions research will be required if the USGCRP is to attain its research objectives, particularly its newly identified objectives in the areas of impact analysis, analysis of mitigation and adaptation options, and integrated assessment. We recommend carefully chosen
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Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change TABLE 1 Selection Criteria for Priority Research Areas Area contributes to expanded USGCRP priorities. New federal priorities, reflected in Our Changing Planet, imply expanded efforts in the areas of human impacts analysis, analysis of mitigation and adaptation response options, and the integration of these two kinds of information with information on earth system processes. Area is recognized as important by the wider global change scientific community. Research will make clear links to climate change, ozone depletion, or biodiversity; it is likely to improve understanding of the trajectory of global changes, estimates of impacts, or elements of global change models. Area can be matched with a federal agency or set of agencies capable of managing it. We have recommended involving federal mission agencies in research on the human dimensions of global change, but have also pointed out that the obvious agencies do not always have the necessary expertise (National Research Council, 1992). Priority areas will fare best if there is an agency or agencies to nurture them. Area is defined so as to encourage interdisciplinary work among the social sciences. Other things being equal, areas that foster interdisciplinary cooperation are preferable because they build lines of communication that will enhance future research. Area builds on strengths of the human dimensions research community. Starting from strength increases the likelihood of producing useful results soon. Area links to international research activities. This primarily means the core program areas of the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Programme of the International Social Science Council, but it may also refer to core areas of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. International links multiply the value of U.S. research by building on work and funding from other countries. They also strengthen the U.S. contribution to international research efforts. Area links to issues of sustainable development. The U.S. government concern with identifying ways to maintain economic growth without compromising environmental quality implies a need for research on how different paths of development affect demands on the environment. This need in turn implies a need for studies of the driving forces of global change. Area would foster social science-natural science research collaboration. Area requires a global focus including both the developed and developing worlds.
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Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change areas in which an incremental investment in focused research is likely to yield particularly great near-term dividends. We consider each of the following research areas to be of major importance for development by the USGCRP: Understanding Land Use Change Improving Policy Analysis: Research on the Decision-Making Process Designing Policy Instruments and Institutions to Address Energy-Related Environmental Problems Assessing Impacts, Vulnerability, and Adaptation to Global Changes Understanding Population Dynamics and Global Change We have defined most of these topics in terms of concrete problem areas rather than in terms of cross-cutting categories such as “ mitigation” or “integrated assessment.” A problem-focused approach ensures that techniques of knowledge integration will be put to practical test. It also ensures that integrated assessment will address the issue of levels of analysis. Whereas global climate models are developed on a planetary scale, policy decisions are defined by political boundaries; a focus on particular practical issues will force communication between analyses at different levels. The chapters that follow explain how each research area will contribute significantly to the government's ability to conduct integrated assessments of its policy options regarding global change. NEXT STEPS Although all of these topics (and others) should be developed quickly, limited human resources dictate that one science plan be developed at a time. In our judgment, a science plan for land use change should be developed first for the simple reason that the scientific community has made the most progress toward such a plan in this area. Land use change provides a concrete focus for integrated analysis of human activities, earth system processes, and human responses. It is an area in which data bases are being developed rapidly for policy analysis and knowledge integration. What is needed now is a strategic planning process capable of singling out particularly promising research priorities and developing both science plans and implementation plans to guide work relating to each priority. Long familiar to natural scientists (e.g., National Research Council, 1983, 1990b, 1993), this process of strategic planning is less common in the social sciences. The plan we propose follows the pattern used to develop several natural science research areas within the GCRP. A science plan begins with the identification of a large thematic topic (for example, the El Niño effect, world ocean currents, biogeochemical
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Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change fluxes) deemed ripe for concentrated attention on the part of the scientific community over a period of 5 to 10 years. It then proceeds to spell out: (1) what is already known about the topic, (2) the major unknowns about it, (3) which of these unknowns are most ripe for focused attention, (4) what data will be needed to come to terms with these unknowns, and (5) what benefits can be expected from a focused research effort. A typical science plan will include a statement of milestones describing expectations about results likely to become available in the topic area in 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years if the plan is followed. An implementation plan picks up where the science plan leaves off: it spells out the practical steps required to transform the science plan into a working program. It indicates the resources required to carry out the science plan, discusses the appropriate mix of investigator-initiated and targeted research, suggests ways to handle logistical needs, and lays out procedures for pooling and exchanging data among program participants. Implementation plans frequently include organizational arrangements, such as the creation of a scientific steering committee or executive committee to ensure proper communication among the sizable group of principal investigators involved in the program. An implementation plan might also deal with the issue of whether to create one or more national centers funded on an ongoing basis to ensure concentration and continuity over time in dealing with a well-defined program area. This report does not propose science plans or implementation plans for the five recommended areas of focused research because we believe that such plans should be developed through broader participation of the relevant communities of research producers and users. Rather, this report identifies the areas in which science and implementation plans are most urgently needed, explains the need for focused research in those areas, outlines the substantive scope of each area and the likely gains in knowledge, and raises key issues to be addressed in developing the science and implementation plans. In the case of land use change, the committee proposes the following specific process to develop credible science and implementation plans covering research over a 5-10 year period: Step 1: The committee will establish a writing group to prepare a draft science plan dealing with land use change for consideration by the wider scientific community, funding agencies, and potential users of the research. Step 2: The committee will convene one or more workshops to gather reactions to its initial draft from a wide range of constituencies. Step 3: An expanded writing group will revise the draft science plan in response to the workshops.
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Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change Step 4: The revised science plan will be reviewed by the workshop participants. Step 5: The writing group (reconfigured as appropriate) will prepare an implementation plan for a 5- to 10-year program of research on land use change. Step 6: A steering committee or executive committee will be created to guide and regularly review the program over the course of its life. We anticipate that such a science plan for research on land use change will take six months to develop; the development of an implementation plan would take another six months. Once this process is well defined, efforts should be focused on the timely development of science and implementation plans for the other topics on the list. At this juncture, we believe the second topic to go through this strategic planning process should be research on decision making and global change. At each stage, it will be important to provide opportunities for those representing the concerns of the science community, the funding community, and the policy-making community to consider adding new science priorities to the initial list and to reconsider the sequence in which these priorities go through the strategic planning process.
Representative terms from entire chapter: