Global climate changes are taking place within a larger context of vast and ongoing social and environmental changes. These include the globalization of markets and communication, continued growth in human population, land use change, resource degradation, and biodiversity loss, as well as persistent armed conflict, poverty, and hunger. There are also ongoing changes in cultural, governance, and economic conditions, as well as in technologies, all of which have substantial implications for human well-being. Thus, decision makers in the United States and around the world need to balance climate-related choices and goals with other social, economic, and environmental objectives (Burger et al., 2009; Lindseth, 2004; Schreurs, 2008), as well as issues of fairness and justice (Page, 2008; Roberts and Parks, 2007; Vanderheiden, 2008) and questions of risk (Bulkeley, 2001; Jacques, 2006; Lorenzoni and Pidgeon, 2006; Lubell et al., 2007; Vogler and Bretherton, 2006), all while taking account of a changing context for those decisions. Accordingly, in addition to climate and climate-related information, decision makers need information about the current state of human systems and their environment, as well as an appreciation of the plausible future outcomes and net effects that may result from their policy decisions. They also need to consider how their decisions and actions could interact with other environmental and economic policy goals, both in and outside their areas of responsibility.
The research needs highlighted in this report are intended to both improve fundamental understanding of and support effective decision making about climate change. As explored in the companion report Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (NRC, 2010b), there is still much to be learned about the best ways of deploying science to support decision making. Indeed, available research suggests that, all too often, scientists' efforts to provide information are of limited practical value because effective decision-support systems are lacking (NRC, 2009g). Scientific research on decision-support models, processes, and tools can help improve these systems.
TABLE 4.5 Examples of Scientific Research Needs Pertaining to Decision Support in the Context of Climate Change (from Part II)
• Develop a more comprehensive and integrative understanding of factors that influence decision making.
• Improve knowledge and decision-support capabilities for all levels of governance in response to the challenges associated with sea level rise.
• Develop effective decision-support tools and approaches for decision making under uncertainty, especially when multiple governance units may be involved, for water resource management, food and fiber production issues, urban and human health issues, and other key sectors.
• Develop protocols, institutions, and technologies for monitoring and verifying compliance with international climate agreements.
• Measure and evaluate public attitudes and test communication approaches that most effectively inform and engage the public in climate-related decision making.
Effective decision support also requires interactive processes involving both scientists and decision makers. Such processes can inform decision makers about anticipated changes in climate, help scientists understand key decision-making needs, and work to build mutual understanding, trust, and cooperation—for example, in the design of decision tools and processes that make sense both scientifically and in the actual decision-making context. Table 4.5 provides a list of the related scientific research needs that emerge from the chapters in Part II of the report.
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