The past several decades of research have yielded a great deal of knowledge about climate change, but there is much still to be learned about both ongoing and future changes and the risks associated with them. Moreover, as decision makers respond to the risks posed by climate change, additional knowledge will be needed to assist them in making well-informed choices. For example, decision makers could use additional information about how the Earth system will respond to future GHG emissions, the range of impacts that could be encountered and the probabilities associated with them, the quantifiable and nonquantifiable risks posed by these changes, the options that can be taken to limit climate change and to reduce vulnerability and increase adaptive capacity of both human and environmental systems, and methods for making choices and managing risk in an environment that continues to change.
Because decisions always involve values, science cannot prescribe the decisions to be made, but scientific research can inform decisions and help to ensure and improve their effectiveness. As we enter a time when decision makers are responding to climate change, the nation's climate research enterprise can assist by including both science for understanding and science for supporting responses to climate change. The diverse and complex set of scientific issues to be addressed in this new era of climate change research span the physical, social, biological, health, and engineering sciences and require integration across them. In the next chapter, we discuss the research needs and themes for the nation's climate change science enterprise in this new era.
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