Knowledge gained from research involving physical, chemical, and ecological processes has been critical for establishing that climate change poses sufficiently serious risks to justify careful consideration and evaluation of alternative responses. Emerging concerns about how best to respond to climate change also bring to the fore questions about human interactions with the climate system: how human activities drive climate change; how people understand, decide, and act in the climate context; how people are affected by climate change; and how human and social systems might respond. Thus, not surprisingly, many of the research needs that emerge from the detailed analyses in Part II focus on human interactions with climate change (see Table 4.2).
Human and social systems play a key role in both causing and responding to climate change. Therefore, in the context of climate change, a better understanding of human behavior and of the role of institutions and organizations is as fundamental to effective decision making as a better understanding of the climate system. Such knowledge underlies the ability to solve focused problems of climate response, such as deciding how to prioritize investments in protecting coastal communities from sea level rise, choosing policies to meet federal or state targets for reducing GHG emissions, and developing better ways to help citizens understand what science can and cannot tell them about potential climate-driven water supply changes. Such fundamental understanding provides the scientific base for making informed choices about climate responses in much the same way that a fundamental understanding of the physical climate system provides the scientific base for projecting the consequences of climate change.
Research investments in the behavioral and social sciences would expand this knowledge base, but such investments have been lacking in the past (e.g., NRC, 1990a, 1999a, 2003a, 2004b, 2005a, 2007f, 2009k). Barriers and institutional factors, both in research funding agencies and in academia more broadly, have also constrained progress in
TABLE 4.2 Examples of Research Needs on Human Behavior, Institutions, and Interactions with the Climate System (from Part II)
• Improve understanding of water-related institutions and governance.
• Improve understanding of human behaviors and institutional and behavioral impediments to reducing energy demand and adopting energy-efficient technologies.
• Improve understanding of what leads to the adoption and implementation of international agreements on climate and other environmental issues and what forms of such agreements most effectively achieve their goals.
• Improve understanding of how institutions interact in the context of multilevel governance and adaptive management.
• Improve understanding of the behaviors, infrastructure, and technologies that influence human activities in the transportation, urban, agricultural, fisheries, and other sectors.
• Improve understanding of the relationship between climate change and institutional responses that affect national security, food security, health, and other aspects of social well-being.
these areas (NRC, 1992a). This section outlines some of the key areas of fundamental research on human behavior and institutions that need to be developed to support better understanding of human interactions with the climate system and provide a scientific basis for informing more effective responses to climate change. It draws on several past analyses and assessments of research gaps and needs (NRC, 1992a, 1997a, 2001, 2002b, 2005a, 2009g, 2009k).
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