Limiting Climate Change

As discussed in Chapter 4 and in the companion report Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change (NRC, 2010c), scientific research can help support actions taken to limit the magnitude of future climate change in a variety of ways. Some technol ogy options in the energy sector are already commercially viable and could be implemented to achieve emissions reductions in the near term. However, research and development are needed to improve implementation success, lower costs, increase the effectiveness of current options, and expand the number of options available. Expanded investments will be needed in a wide range of research areas, such as energy sources that emit few or no GHGs, carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency and conservation approaches (including strategies to promote adoption and use of energy-efficient technologies), and technologies to reduce emissions from agriculture and other land uses. Technologies that remove GHGs from the air or reflect more sunlight back to space (geoengineering approaches) may also warrant attention, provided that they do not replace other important research efforts (see Chapter 15).

A variety of research programs on transportation and energy technology development and deployment already exist in the federal government (for example and most notably, the Climate Change Technology Program led by the Department of Energy), in several states (e.g., California's PIER program), in corporations, and through public-private partnerships such as corporate-funded university research efforts (NRC, 2009a,b,c,d). The climate change research enterprise envisioned in this report— including the USGCRP—would complement and build on these efforts. For example, research will be needed to evaluate the overall effectiveness of different technologies, possible unintended consequences of large-scale deployment, and possible tradeoffs and co-benefits with other types of responses. New scientific knowledge about human behavior, public perception, and institutional structures can help identify potential barriers to widespread implementation of promising technologies or policies to limit climate change. Research is also needed on a wide range of technology implementation and deployment issues, such as research on cost and cost effectiveness, governance issues, barriers to technology adoption, and policies and programs designed to overcome these barriers. Finally, research can help to develop frameworks for decision making that allow these barriers, costs, benefits, co-benefits, and trade-offs to be explicitly evaluated and incorporated into strategies for reducing emissions.

As noted in Chapter 4, an effective national research effort on limiting the magnitude of climate change will require integration of knowledge across a wide range of fields and collaboration with engineers, policy makers, and others involved in developing and implementing actions to limit climate change. However, collaboration and linkages between the USGCRP and existing programs relevant to limiting climate change—most notably the Climate Change Technology Program—are currently weak (NRC, 2009k). These linkages need to be improved, and any new programs that emerge to focus on limiting the magnitude of future climate change would surely benefit from formal linkages to the USGCRP as well as other scientific research organizations, efforts, and activities.

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