Adapting to Climate Change

The companion report Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change (NRC, 2010a) concludes that there is an urgent need to better understand and project climate change and its impacts (especially at local and regional scales), convey this information to decision makers and other stakeholders, and develop options and strategies for reducing the vulnerability and increasing the resilience and adaptive capacity of both human and natural systems in the United States and abroad. As discussed in Chapter 4, science can make major contributions in all of these areas. A national climate change research enterprise that has an expanded focus on adaptation strategies could, for example, provide region- and sector-specific information about climate change impacts and vulnerabilities in the context of multiple stressors acting on coupled human-environment systems. It could also evaluate and verify the feasibility and effectiveness of, trade-offs among, and the secondary environmental, social, and economic consequences of different adaptation options. Moreover, because it is difficult to assign a monetary value to some kinds of impacts (for example, biodiversity loss or threats to national security), the development of alternative metrics and assessment strategies is needed. Science can also support adaptation through research-based development and testing of decision-support strategies and tools designed to connect scientific information with decision making. Finally, there is a need for further research on human behavior and institutional barriers to implementation in the context of adaptation options and choices.

The companion report Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change (NRC, 2010a) recommends that a national adaptation strategy be established to engage decision makers, stakeholders, and researchers at all levels in developing and implementing adaptation plans. The USGCRP and other elements of the nation's climate change science research enterprise will be essential partners in the success of these adaptation efforts. Connecting adaptation programs with scientific research is complicated, however, by the fact that many adaptation decisions are inherently local or regional in scale and can take years to implement. Federal centers established to address climate challenges may not effectively assist at these scales unless there are regional or local entities to provide integration in a place-based context and facilitate connections with local decision makers. Local, state, and regional partnerships between academic, public, and private institutions could serve the role of coupling adaptation efforts with scientific research to create end-to-end knowledge systems. Approaches for linking knowledge about adaptation responses across these scales, and to international adaptation research efforts, will also be needed.

Informing About Climate Change

To respond effectively to climate change, decision makers at all scales from local to international will need up-to-date, cogent, accessible, and usable information. The companion report Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (NRC, 2010b) provides analysis and advice on how to ensure that scientific information is used, and used effectively, by decision makers. Many previous reports (e.g., NRC, 2008h, 2009g) have also analyzed the information sources, assessment tools, decision-support mechanisms, and other aspects of informing effective climate-related decision making.

There have been several recent efforts at the federal level to establish programs to provide climate-related information, such as NOAA's announcement of its intent to form a climate service (NOAA, 2010) and the Department of the Interior's announcement of a coordinated climate change research and resource management strategy (DOI, 2009), as well as an international agreement to establish a global framework for climate services (WMO, 2009b). As discussed in Chapter 4, these efforts, and those established in the future, will require the climate change science community's assistance in providing more and better decision-relevant information, as well as scientific research on improved communication and decision-support tools and structures.

Scientific assessments are another way the climate research program can work collaboratively with national or international initiatives to inform effective climate-related decisions and responses. Climate change assessment processes, if carefully and deliberately designed, can engage a broad range of stakeholders in the assessment of risks, costs, and potential responses to climate change impacts (Farrell and J├Ąger, 2005; NRC, 2007a, 2008h). Assessment activities represent an important opportunity to improve linkages between the scientific and decision-making communities. The recent NRC report Restructuring Federal Climate Research (NRC, 2009k) called for the USGCRP to begin planning a comprehensive national assessment of climate change impacts, adaptation options, and actions to reduce climate forcing, as called for in the Global Change Research Act, and it is encouraging that planning for such an activity is now under way.

Recommendation 6: The federal climate change research program should be formally linked with action-oriented response programs focused on limiting the magnitude of future climate change, adapting to the impacts of climate change, and informing climate-related actions and decisions, and, where relevant, should

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