The Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change is one of four panels convened under the America's Climate Choices suite of activities, which is collectively responsible for providing advice on the most effective steps and most promising strategies that the nation can take to respond to climate change (see Foreword). Our charge was to provide a concise overview of past, present, and future climate change, including its causes and its impacts, and to recommend steps to advance our current understanding of climate change and the effectiveness of responses to it (see Appendix B).
The panel's first challenge was to decide how to summarize the large volume of excellent peer-reviewed research by the national and international community to produce a concise overview of what is known. We recognize that this report is not brief; we decided that comprehensiveness was essential to the report's credibility. In addition to drawing on the new scientific results being published nearly every week, we were aided in this task by the final U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) Synthesis and Assessment Product Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (USGCRP, 2009a), the recent National Research Council (NRC) report Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change (NRC, 2009k), and the four volumes of the fourth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007a-d). In keeping with the overarching goals of the America's Climate Choices study, we focus on the scientific knowledge that we thought would be of greatest interest to decision makers facing crucial choices about how to respond to climate change. Likewise, in looking to the future, we emphasize the scientific advances that could help decision makers identify, evaluate, and implement effective actions to limit its magnitude and adapt to its impacts.
The body of science reviewed by the Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change makes a compelling case that climate change is occurring and suggests that it threatens not just the environment and ecosystems of the world but the well-being of people today and in future generations. Climate change is thus a sustainability challenge. We hope that, for those who are skeptical or uncertain about what the body of scientific evidence tells us, our report will be informative. The scientific process is never "closed"—new ideas are always part of scientific debate, and there is always more to be learned—but scientific understanding does advance over time as some ideas are supported by multiple lines of evidence while others prove inconsistent with the data
or basic principles. Our understanding of climate change and its causes and consequences have advanced in this way.
The panel also examined the adequacy of the science base needed to improve the effectiveness of actions taken to limit the magnitude of future climate change and adapt to its inevitable impacts. Decision makers in the federal government, state governments, tribes, corporations, municipalities, and nongovernmental organizations, as well as citizen decision makers, are beginning to act. Climate research over the past three decades, however, has been driven largely by a need to better understand rather than to explicitly respond to climate change. Until recently, there has been relatively little research focused on the development and implementation of climate-friendly energy sources or land use practices, socioeconomic and behavioral processes that affect responses, adaptation strategies, analytical approaches to evaluate trade-offs and unintended consequences of actions, policy mechanisms, and other response issues. To address the need for new kinds of knowledge, we recommend some significant changes to the nation's climate change research enterprise.
Our report covers a great deal of scientific territory and has been accomplished over a relatively short time period. For this, we thank our tremendously dedicated panel members and remarkably talented NRC study director Ian Kraucunas. The report also benefitted from the insights and assistance of several members of our sister panels and the Committee on America's Climate Choices; in particular, we thank Kris Ebi, George Eads, Bob Fri, Linda Mearns, and Susan Solomon. In addition, we thank Mike Behrenfeld, Bill Nordhaus, Michele Betsill, Peter Schultz, Chris Field, and others who contributed written materials or spoke at panel meetings. We also benefitted from many one-on-one discussions throughout the study process and from the comments and perspectives contributed through the America's Climate Choices website.1
The report also would not have been possible without the dedication and contributions of the NRC staff. In addition to study director Ian Kraucunas, we thank Paul Stern, who provided many good ideas and written contributions throughout the study; Art Charo, who staffed the workshop on geoengineering held in June 2009; Maggie Walser, who assisted with the panel's response to external review comments; Madeline Woodruff and Joe Casola, who contributed to several chapters; Katie Weller, who compiled the references for the report—a huge job; our science writers/editors Lisa Palmer and Yvonne Baskin; Rob Greenway, who provided logistical support; and Chris Elfring, who provided wise advice at several points in the process.
There is still much to learn about the physical phenomenon of global climate change and its social, economic, and ecological drivers and consequences. There is also a great deal to learn about how to respond effectively without creating serious unintended consequences and, where possible, creating multiple co-benefits. If the scientific progress of the past few decades is any indication, we can expect amazing progress, but only if there is adequate demand, support, and organization for the nation's new era of climate change research.
Pamela Matson, Chair, and Thomas Dietz, Vice Chair Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change
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