6. Integrated Climate Observing Systems. Some examples include efforts to ensure continuity of existing observations; develop new observational capacity for critical physical, ecological, and social variables; ensure that current and planned observations are sufficient both to continue building scientific understanding of and support more effective responses to climate change (including monitoring to assess the effectiveness of responses); and ensure adequate emphasis and support for data assimilation, analysis, and management.
7. Improved Projections, Analyses, and Assessments. Some examples include advanced models for analysis and projections of climate forcing, responses, and impacts, especially at regional scales; and integrated assessment models and approaches—both quantitative and nonquantitative—for evaluating the
3 The term "geoengineering" refers to deliberate, large-scale manipulations of Earth's environment designed to offset some of the harmful consequences of GHG-induced climate change. Geoengineering encompasses two very different classes of approaches: CO2 removal and solar radiation management. See Chapter 15 for details.
advantages and disadvantages of, and the trade-offs and co-benefits4 among, various options for responding to climate change.
These seven themes and the range of research questions within them are explored in Chapter 4, and additional discussion of specific research needs can be found in Chapters 6-17. Because progress in any one of these themes is related to progress in others, all seven will need to be pursued simultaneously or at least iteratively. The nation currently has the capabilities and capacity to make incremental progress in some of these key research areas, but making more dramatic improvements in our understanding of and ability to respond to climate change will require several fundamental alterations in the support for and organization and conduct of climate change research.
Recommendation 1: The nation's climate change research enterprise should include and integrate disciplinary and interdisciplinary research across the physical, social, biological, health, and engineering sciences; focus on fundamental, use-inspired research that contributes to both improved understanding and more effective decision making; and be flexible in identifying and pursuing emerging research challenges.
Climate change research needs to be integrative and interdisciplinary. Climate change involves many aspects of the Earth system, as well a wide range of human activities, and both climate change and actions taken to respond to climate change interact in complex ways with other global and regional environmental changes. Understanding climate change, its impacts, and potential responses thus inherently requires integration of knowledge bases from many different scientific disciplines, including the physical, social, biological, health, and engineering sciences, and across different spatial scales of analysis, from local to global. Developing the science to support choices about climate change also requires engagement of decision makers and other stakeholders, as discussed below.
Climate change research should focus on fundamental, use-inspired research. This report recognizes the need for scientific research to both improve understanding of climate changes and assist in decision making related to climate change. In categorizing these types of scientific research, we found that terms such as "pure,""basic,""applied," and "curiosity driven" have different definitions across communities, are as likely to cause
4 A co-benefit refers to an additional benefit resulting from an action undertaken to achieve a particular purpose, but that is not directly related to that purpose.
confusion as to advance consensus, and are of limited value in discussing climate change. More compelling, however, is the categorization offered by Stokes (1997), who argues that two questions should be asked of a research topic: Does it contribute to fundamental understanding? Can it be expected to be useful? Research that can answer yes to both of these questions, or "fundamental, use-inspired research," warrants special priority in the realm of climate change research.
Climate change research should support decision making at local, regional, national, and international levels. Many choices about how to respond to climate change fundamentally involve values and ethics and, thus, cannot be based on science alone. However, scientific research can inform and guide climate-related decisions in a variety of ways. Continued research on the causes, mechanisms, and consequences of climate change will help clarify the risks that climate changes pose to human and natural systems. Science can help identify new options and strategies for limiting the magnitude of climate change or adapting to its impacts, as well as help improve existing options. Science also plays the key role of evaluating the advantages and disadvantages associated with different responses to climate change, including unintended consequences, trade-offs, and co-benefits among different sets of actions. Finally, scientific research on new, more effective information-sharing and decision-making processes and tools can assist decision making.
Climate change research needs to be a flexible enterprise, able to respond to changing knowledge needs and support adaptive risk management and iterative decision making. Many resource and infrastructure decisions, from storm sewer planning to crop planting dates, will be made in the context of continuously evolving climate conditions as well as ongoing changes in other environmental and human systems. Decision makers would thus be well advised to employ iterative and adaptive risk-management5 strategies as they make climate-related decisions. The nation's scientific enterprise will be increasingly called upon to provide the up-to-date, decision-specific information that such strategies require. Furthermore, as actions to limit and adapt to climate change— many of them never tried before—are taken, decision makers will need to understand and take the consequences of these actions into account. This will place increased demands on scientific monitoring, modeling, and analysis activities. To meet these evolving needs, the nation's climate research enterprise will itself need to be flexible and adaptive, and to practice "learning by doing" as it provides decision makers with the information they need to make effective decisions.
5 Adaptive (or iterative) risk management refers to an ongoing decision-making process that takes known and potential risks and uncertainties into account and periodically updates and improves plans and strategies as new information becomes available.
Recommendation 2: Research priorities for the federal climate change research program should be set within each of the seven crosscutting research themes outlined above. Priorities should be set using the following three criteria:
1. Contribution to improved understanding;
2. Contribution to improved decision making; and
3. Feasibility of implementation, including scientific readiness and cost.
Progress in the seven crosscutting research themes would advance the science of climate change in ways that are responsive to the nation's needs for information. Progress in all seven themes is needed, but priorities will ultimately need to be set within them. The development of more comprehensive, exhaustive, and prioritized lists of specific research needs within each theme should involve members of the relevant research communities, taking into account that it is far more challenging to identify and evaluate key uncertainties and information needs in understudied areas than in established research fields. It is critical that priority setting also include the perspective of societal need, which necessitates input from decision makers and other stakeholders. Finally, feasibility of implementation, including scientific readiness, cost, and other practical, institutional, and managerial concerns, need to be considered to ensure effectiveness. Chapter 5 provides additional details on priority setting.
Recommendation 3: The federal climate change research program, working in partnership with other relevant domestic and international bodies, should redouble efforts to develop, deploy, and maintain a comprehensive observing system that can support all aspects of understanding and responding to climate change.
Long-term, stable, and well-calibrated observations across a spectrum of human and environmental systems are essential for diagnosing and understanding climate change and its impacts. The suite of needed observations includes measurements of physical, biological, ecological, and socioeconomic processes, and includes both remotely sensed and in situ data across a range of scales. Observations are also critical for developing, initializing, and testing models of future human and environmental changes, and for monitoring and improving the effectiveness of actions taken to respond to climate change. However, many observing systems are in decline, putting our ability to monitor and understand future changes at risk. Stemming this decline should be a top priority. Responding effectively to climate change will also require new observational capabilities to monitor and evaluate progress in limiting climate change and adapting to its impacts, as well as to monitor known risks and identify new or emerging risks as climate change unfolds. All of these data need to be archived, checked for quality, and made readily accessible to a wide range of users, keeping in mind that many climate-related decisions require information of many different types and at different scales.
Hence, there is a critical need to develop, deploy, and maintain a robust infrastructure for collecting and archiving a wide range of climate and climate-related data, integrating data collected on different systems, and ensuring that the data are reliable, accurate, and easily accessible. The federal climate research program is the obvious entity for leading the development of such a coordinated, comprehensive, and integrated climate observing system, and ensuring that the system facilitates both improved understanding and more effective decision making. However, other relevant partners, including the domestic and international research communities and action-oriented programs at all spatial scales, also need to be engaged in system design, deployment, and maintenance. Critical steps include reviewing current and planned observational assets, identifying critical climate monitoring and measurement needs, and developing a comprehensive strategy to meet these needs, including data management and stewardship activities. The climate observing system should be coordinated with other environmental and social data collection efforts to take advantage of synergies and ensure interoperability. Finally, careful balancing is needed to ensure that resources are used effectively, that investments in one kind of observation do not impede the ability to invest in others, and that the full spectrum of most critical observations are collected and made available for diverse uses.
Recommendation 4: The federal climate change research program should work with the international research community and other relevant partners to support and develop advanced models and other analytical tools to improve understanding and assist in decision making related to climate change.
Enhanced modeling capabilities, including improved representations of underlying human and Earth system processes, are needed to support efforts to understand, limit, and adapt to climate change. Improvements are especially needed in integrated Earth system models to allow more thorough examination of climate-related feedbacks and the possibility of abrupt changes, regional-scale projections of climate change and its impacts, and integrated assessment activities that explicitly link coupled humanenvironment systems. Also critical are more informative and comprehensive scenarios of future human activities that influence or are influenced by climate, and models and analyses of the effects of different actions (and combinations of actions) taken to adapt to climate change or limit its magnitude. Information on decadal time scales is particularly relevant to many climate-related decisions. Improvements in all of these areas go hand in hand with improvements in fundamental understanding, for example of processes and mechanism of regional climate variability and change. Improvements in models and other analytical tools also support decision making by allowing more thorough and comprehensive analyses of the economic, social, and environmental consequences of climate change and of actions taken to respond.
Adequate computational resources are critical for Earth system models, regional climate models, integrated assessment models, impacts-adaptation-vulnerability models, climate forcing scenario development efforts, and other tools for projecting future changes. Near-term progress would benefit from improvements in and access to high-performance computing. As with observations, efforts are needed to ensure that the output from models, analyses, and assessments are appropriately managed, undergo continuing development, and actually inform decision-making processes at appropriate levels. The federal climate change research program should lead the development of a strategy for dramatically improving and integrating regional climate modeling, global Earth system models, and various integrated assessment, vulnerability, impact, and adaptation models. To ensure the success of this strategy, the program and its partners should take steps to increase the computational and human resources available to support a wide range of modeling efforts and ensure that these efforts are linked with both the national observing system strategy and with efforts to support effective decision making.
Recommendation 5: A single federal interagency program or other entity should be given the authority and resources to coordinate and implement an integrated research effort that supports improving both understanding of and responses to climate change. If several key modifications are made, the U.S. Global Change Research Program could serve this role.
There are several ways that climate change research at the federal level could be organized to achieve a broad, integrated, and decision-relevant research effort capable of coordinating and leading the nation's broader climate change research enterprise. After reviewing several options (see Chapter 5), the panel came to the conclusion that the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which established the USGCRP, provides the legislative authority needed to implement a strategically integrated climate change research program (Global Change Research Act, P.L. 101 -606, Title 15, Chapter 56A, 1990). The USGCRP is capable of implementing the other recommendations offered in this report, provided that several key modifications are made to its current structure, goals, and practices.
The USGCRP has been highly successful on many fronts, including in elucidating the causes and some of the impacts of climate change. However, institutional issues and other factors have resulted in critical knowledge gaps, including a number of the re search needs identified in this report (see also NRC, 2009k). Other persistent criticisms of the program include inadequate support for and progress in social science research, decision-support activities, and integration across disciplines. To better support improvements in our understanding of climate change and effective responses to it, the USGCRP will need to establish improved mechanisms for identifying and addressing these and other weaknesses and gaps, as well as the barriers that give rise to such gaps. The USGCRP also needs to establish more effective mechanisms to interact with decision makers and other stakeholders.
To ensure progress in the seven key research themes identified above, and implement the other recommendations offered in this report, the USGCRP will need high-level leadership. This includes effective and forward-looking leadership of the program itself as well as supportive leaders in its partner agencies. To effectively shape and govern an interagency research effort, the program also needs expanded budgeting oversight and authority to coordinate and prioritize climate change research across agencies. The importance of effective leadership, with adequate support and programmatic and budgetary authority, has been recognized in several NRC reviews of the USGCRP (see Chapter 5 and Appendix E). Support and oversight from institutions with overarching authority, such as the Office of Management and Budget, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and relevant congressional committees, will be essential, as will a comprehensive, inclusive, and ongoing strategic planning process.
Recommendation 6: The federal climate change research program should be formally linked with action-oriented response programs focused on limiting the magnitude of future climate change, adapting to the impacts of climate change, and informing climate-related actions and decisions, and, where relevant, should develop partnerships with other research and decision-making entities working at local to international scales.
The engagement of institutions at all levels and of all sorts—academic, governmental, private-sector, and not-for-profit—will be needed to meet the challenges of climate change. By working collaboratively with action-oriented programs, both at the federal level and across the country, the federal climate change research program can help ensure that the nation's responses to climate change are as effective as possible. For example, scientific knowledge about the impacts of climate change and about the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of different human and environmental systems— which typically requires analysis focused at local to regional scales—is critical for developing and assessing adaptation measures. Likewise, research on human behavior, institutions, and decision-making processes, products, and tools can contribute to programs designed to inform decision makers and other stakeholders about climate change (including the emerging federal approach to provide "climate services"). Scientific research also underpins the development, implementation, and assessment of policies and technologies intended to limit the magnitude of climate change and, as such, is an important partner for technology development programs such as the Climate Change Technology Program. Such an "end-to-end" climate change research enterprise was also called for in the recent NRC reports Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change (NRC, 2009k) and Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate (NRC, 2009g). Achieving this vision will require high-level coordination, ideally through formal mechanisms, between the research program and action-oriented programs at the federal level. It will also requite new and improved mechanisms for engaging with both research and action-oriented programs at state and local levels. Finally, partnerships with the international research community will be essential for maximizing the effectiveness of domestic investments in climate change research.
Recommendation 7: Congress, federal agencies, and the federal climate change research program should work with other relevant partners (including universities, state and local governments, the international research community, the business community, and other nongovernmental organizations) to expand and engage the human capital needed to carry out climate change research and response programs.
The scale, importance, and complexity of the climate challenge implies a critical need to increase the workforce performing fundamental and decision-relevant climate research, implementing responses to climate change, and working at the interface between science and decision making. Thanks to more than three decades of research on climate change, the disciplinary research community in the United States and elsewhere is strong, at least in research areas that have received significant emphasis and support. However, the more integrative and decision-relevant research program described in this report will require expanded intellectual capacity in several previously neglected fields as well as in interdisciplinary research areas. Responding effectively to climate change will also require new interdisciplinary intellectual capacity among state, local, and national government agencies, universities, and other public and private research labs, as well as among science managers coordinating efforts to advance the science of climate change. Building and mobilizing this broad research community will require a concerted and coordinated effort.
The federal climate research program, federal agencies and laboratories, universities, professional societies, and other elements of the nation's research enterprise should use a variety of mechanisms to encourage and facilitate interdisciplinary and integrative research. At the national scale, institutional changes are needed in federal research and mission agencies to increase the focus on interdisciplinary and decision-relevant research throughout government and in the nationwide research efforts the agencies support. Additional venues for presentation and publication of interdisciplinary and decision-relevant climate research are also needed, as well as professional organizations that support and reward these efforts. Finally, state and local governments, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations should be key partners in developing and engaging a workforce to implement the national climate research strategy. Further discussion of the actions needed to educate and train future generations of scientists, engineers, technicians, managers, and decision makers for responding to climate change can be found in the companion report Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (NRC, 2010b).
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