Theme 7 Improved Projections Analyses And Assessments

Nearly every scientific challenge associated with understanding and responding to climate change requires an assessment of the interactions among different components of the coupled human-environment system. A wide range of models, tools, and approaches, from quantitative numerical models and analytic techniques to frameworks and processes that engage interdisciplinary research teams and stakeholders, are needed to simulate and assess these interactions. While decisions are ultimately the outcome of individual, group, and political decision-making processes, scientific tools and approaches can aid decision making by systematically incorporating complex information, projecting the consequences of different choices, accounting for uncertainties, and facilitating disciplined evaluation of trade-offs as the nation turns its attention to responding to climate change. Table 4.7 lists some of the specific research needs identified in Part II of the report that are related to the development of models, tools, and approaches for improving projections, analyses, and assessments of climate change.

TABLE 4.7 Examples of Science Needs Related to Improving Projections, Analyses, and Assessments of Climate Change (from Part II)

• Continue to develop and use scenarios as a tool for framing uncertainty and risk, understanding human drivers of climate change, forcing climate models, and projecting changes in adaptive capacity and vulnerability.

• Improve model projections of future climate change, especially at regional scales.

• Improve end-to-end models through coordination and linkages among models that connect emissions, changes in the climate system, and impacts on specific sectors.

• Develop tools and approaches for understanding and predicting the impacts of sea level rise on coastal ecosystems and infrastructure.

• Improve models of the response of agricultural crops, fisheries, transportation systems, and other human systems to climate and other environmental changes.

• Develop integrated approaches and analytical frameworks to evaluate the effectiveness and potential unintended consequences of actions taken to respond to climate change, including trade-offs and synergies among various options.

• Explore cross-sector interactions between impacts of and responses to climate change.

• Continue to improve methods for estimating costs, benefits, and cost effectiveness of climate mitigation and adaptation policies, including complex or hybrid policies.

• Develop analyses that examine climate policy from a sustainability perspective, taking account of the full range of effects of climate policy on human and environmental systems, including unintended consequences and equity effects.

The boundaries between various tools and approaches for integrated analysis of climate impacts, vulnerabilities, and response options are not rigid; often, a combination of several tools or approaches is needed for improved understanding and to support decision making. This section highlights a few of the integrated tools and approaches that can be used, including

• Scenarios of future GHG emissions and other human activities;

• Climate and Earth system models;

• Process models of ecological functions and ecosystem services;

• Integrated assessment approaches, which couple human and environmental systems;

• Policy-oriented heuristic models and exercises; and

• Process-based decision tools.

This discussion is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of these approaches— more detailed discussions can be found in Part II of the report and in other reports (e.g., NRC, 2009g)—nor is it intended as a complete list of important tools and ap proaches for integrated analysis. Rather, it provides examples of the kinds of approaches that need to be developed, improved, and used more extensively to improve scientific understanding of climate change and make this scientific knowledge more useful for decision making.

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