Report Overview

This report describes what has been learned about climate change. It then identifies the most critical current research needs, including research needed to improve our understanding of climate change and its impacts and research related to informing decision makers and allowing them to respond more effectively to the challenges of climate change. As directed by the charge to the panel (see Appendix B), this report covers the broad scientific territory of understanding climate change and its interactions with humans and ecosystems, including responses to climate change. Thus, it spans the breadth of "climate change science," which in this report is defined to include research in the physical, social, ecological, environmental, health, and engineering sciences, as well as research that integrates these and other disciplines.

The following chapters, which are broken into two parts, discuss the contributions that climate change science has made and can make in advancing our understanding of climate change and in supporting climate-related decisions. The five chapters in Part

1 A co-benefit refers to an additional benefit resulting from an action undertaken to achieve a particular purpose, but which is not directly related to that purpose.

1 include the panel's conclusions, recommendations, and supporting analysis. Chapter

2 provides an overview of available scientific knowledge about climate change. This overview is drawn from the 12 technical chapters in Part II of the report, which provide more detailed and extensively referenced information on what science has learned about climate change and its interactions with key human and environmental systems. Chapter 3 examines some of the complexities and risks associated with climate change that emerge from what has been learned and discusses the role that scientific research can play in helping decision makers manage those risks. Chapter 4 describes seven crosscutting and integrative research themes that emerge from the panel's review of key scientific research needs (the details of which can be found in the final section of each of the chapters in Part II). Chapter 5, the final chapter in Part I, provides the panel's recommendations for advancing the science of climate change, including priority-setting, infrastructural, and organizational issues.

Broadly speaking, the report concludes that the causes and many of the consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly clear, and that additional research is needed both to continue to improve understanding of climate change and to support effective responses to it. This expanded research enterprise needs to be more integrative and interdisciplinary, will demand improved infrastructural support and intellectual capacity, and will need to be tightly linked to efforts to limit and adapt to climate change at all scales. In short, the report concludes that we are entering a new era of climate change research, one in which research is needed to understand not just where the world is headed, but also how the risks posed by climate change can be managed effectively.

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