Climate change is both a global problem and a local problem, and its impacts have implications for and interact with nearly every sector of human activity, including energy and food production, water and other natural resources, human health, business and industrial activities, and, in turn, political stability and international security. Efforts to limit climate change are also inherently cross-sectoral and international in scope— national efforts to limit GHG emissions are connected by the global climate system, making it necessary for the United States to formulate and coordinate its strategies for reducing emissions in the context of international agreements and the actions of other nations. At the same time, many of the actions taken to limit or adapt to climate change ultimately play out at local and regional scales. Thus, the engagement of institutions at all levels and of all sorts—academic, governmental, private-sector, and not-for-profit—will be required to meet the challenges of climate change.
The scientific enterprise is also inherently local to global in scope—scientific contributions to understanding or responding to climate change appear in international journals, get assessed by international scientific bodies, and contribute to improved understanding and responses to climate change worldwide. The international research community has established a number of scientific programs to coordinate and facilitate international participation in global change research. Some of these programs and partnerships include the following:
• The World Climate Research Program (WCRP) was established by the United Nations World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the (nongovernmental) International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) in 1980 with the aim of determining the predictability of climate and the effect of human activities on climate.
• ICSU established the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) in
1987 to more broadly address global environmental changes and their interactions in the biosphere and physical Earth system.
• The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in
1988 by WMO and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to provide an international assessment of the science that all governments could use in negotiating an international approach to addressing climate change.
• In 1990, in partnership with the International Social Science Council, ICSU established the International Human Dimensions Program (IHDP) to address the social science components of global change research.
• In 1991, DIVERSITAS was established with the goal of developing an interna tional, nongovernmental umbrella program that would address the complex scientific questions posed by the loss of and change in global biodiversity. It was founded jointly by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment; and the International Union of Biological Science.
• In 1992, the START (System for Analysis, Research and Training) Programme was formed jointly by ICSU and its four international global change science programs. START is designed to assist developing countries, through research and education, in building the expertise and knowledge they need to explore the drivers of and solutions to global and regional climate and environmental change.
• In 2002, the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) was established in order to provide integrated studies of the Earth system. ESSP is a joint initiative of WCRP, IGBP, IHDP and DIVERSITAS.
The United States has been a key scientific contributor to all of these programs—the U.S. policy of making satellite data freely available around the world is just one example—and has also been a beneficiary of international research efforts. Since the early 1990s, the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research (IGFA) has provided a forum through which national agencies that fund global change research identify issues of mutual interest and look for appropriate ways to coordinate. Continued participation in these international activities will be crucial to an effective climate science enterprise in the United States. In particular, as noted in this report and others (e.g., NRC, 2009k), the science needs for improved climate observing systems and improved model projections of future climate change can best be met through collaborations and partnerships at the international scale. Moreover, climate change is a global challenge; impacts on ecosystems and societies span the globe and some of these impacts will cascade from one region to another. Climate change science conducted in the United States can thus play an essential role in improving the knowledge of and scientific capacity to respond to climate challenges in the developing areas of the world, where knowledge about possible responses to climate change is much more limited.
National and international coordination are essential, but decision-relevant research is often focused at regional and local scales. Thus, there are many opportunities for states, municipalities, and other subnational entities to work with each other and with the federal government to build expertise, fund relevant research and research infrastructure, and create the kinds of networks and partnerships that enable effective collaborations among the research and decision-making communities. For example, research in many academic and nonacademic institutions is supported in part by state funds, including the system of agricultural experiment stations and targeted initiatives on water and other resources. Because so many climate change challenges play out at local to regional scales, new kinds of partnerships and programs will be needed to link federal and local research and response approaches and to make research useful to decision making at all scales. So-called "boundary organizations" that purposefully link researchers and decision makers provide one model for doing so (see, e.g., Brooke, 2008; Moser and Luers, 2008; Pohl, 2008; Tribbia and Moser, 2008). The Regional Integrated Science and Assessments (RISA) program and, until recently, the Sectoral Applications Research Program (SARP) organized by NOAA are examples of such programs (NRC, 2007h). Examples can also be found in other countries (for example, the United Kingdom Climate Impacts Program). Shared funding and governance can help ensure such programs provide both effective decision support and decision-relevant research.
Was this article helpful?