Challenges Posed by the New Era of Climate Change Research

The broad, interdisciplinary, and integrated research enterprise envisioned in this report presents a number of implementation challenges. Among others, it requires scientists to work together in ways that are not well supported by many existing institutional structures, such as discipline-specific academic departments. It also requires researchers to engage with decision makers and other stakeholders to identify research topics and develop mechanisms for transferring research results, activities that are not a traditional strength or focus of scientific training. These challenges suggest that changes are needed within universities, federal laboratories, vocational training centers, and other research and educational institutions.

At the national scale, institutional changes are needed in federal research and mission agencies to increase the focus on interdisciplinary and decision-relevant research both in government laboratories and in the nationwide research efforts the agencies sup port. Some agencies will need to recruit or train scientists and program managers with the expertise needed to organize and manage such programs, especially expertise in the behavioral and social science fields that have not been as well represented or supported as the more "traditional" areas of climate and climate-related research.

Many universities are already experimenting with new interdisciplinary departments or schools focused on the environment, while others have developed multidepartment programs, centers, or institutes on sustainability, climate change, and other crosscutting topics. Many of these same university experiments include the training of undergraduate and graduate students through interdisciplinary academic programs, some of which are funded by special federal programs (such as the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program). Although in great demand by students, these programs face challenges from a lack of long-term funding and commitment by faculty and administrators.

Changes are also needed in professional societies, journals, and other institutions that influence rewards and incentives for scientists, engineers, managers, and others involved in the climate research enterprise. For example, venues for presentation and publication of interdisciplinary and decision-relevant climate research, as well as professional organizations that support and reward these efforts, are needed to build networks and provide professional rewards. Likewise, organizational changes in advice-giving bodies (such as the NRC) may help by enabling them to emphasize the integrative nature of climate change science when providing advice for the government and the larger science community. Other needed investments include fellowships and early career awards that can help direct researchers toward interdisciplinary work, and "summer institutes" and other training opportunities that provide extended interaction and promote cross-disciplinary engagement.

Finally, at the international scale, interdisciplinary science efforts focused on climate and global change have started to emerge (for example, the ESSP projects under ICSU). Not only do these programs facilitate engagement and capacity building for scientists from developing countries, they provide a way for U.S. scientists to contribute to international programs that focus on integrative research in support of both basic understanding of and responses to climate change. Strengthening these programs will require improving international research funding capacity (through IGFA and other mechanisms) and developing new mechanisms to engage the U.S. research community with international partners. One obstacle that impairs both international collaboration and U.S. research capacity is the difficulty that non-U.S. scientists encounter in obtaining visas to visit or train in the United States; another is the fact that most federal programs will not fund non-U.S. citizens as researchers or students.

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