Friday, February 27, 2009

NAS Report On Restructuring Federal Climate Research Program

Feb 26: A new report from the National Academy of Sciences' (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) indicates that the Federal government's climate change research program should broaden its focus to include research that would "support actions needed to cope with climate change-related problems that will impact society, while building on its successful research to improve understanding of the causes and processes of climate change."

The report -- Restructuring Federal Climate Research To Meet The Challenges Of Climate Change -- says as the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) looks to the future, it should establish a U.S. climate observing system; develop new modeling capabilities for regional- and decadal-scale forecasts; strengthen research on adaptation, mitigation, and vulnerability; initiate a periodic national assessment of climate impacts and responses; and routinely provide policymakers with crucial scientific information, tools, and forecasts.

The NAS report comes just one day after leading medical experts, health and environmental groups advised that the CCSP must make public health a strong focus as it undergoes an internal reorganization under the Obama administration. A memorandum signed by 22 medical experts and 10 groups recommended that CCSP correct the program’s historic “relative under-emphasis…on human health and human dimensions in general” and instead address “the important and growing gaps in knowledge and practice.” [See WIMS 2/25/09].

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, University of California, San Diego and chair of the committee that wrote the report said, "CCSP has created a robust infrastructure for observations and modeling, which has enabled scientists to document trends in critical climate parameters and identify the human impacts on climate change. Now we need to know how to respond to climate change, while working closely with policymakers on mitigation and adaptation strategies." In 2007, the committee issued its first report, which evaluated the program's progress at the request of CCSP's former director [
See WIMS 2/23/07]. For this second report, the Research Council was asked to identify future priorities and lay out a framework to guide the evolution of the program.

The committee found that the "program is hindered by its limited research into the social sciences -- such as research on the role of human actions and behavior in changing climate and how societies can mitigate and adapt to the impacts -- and the separation of natural and social sciences research. Spending on human-dimensions research has never exceeded 3 percent of the CCSP research budget. As a result, research, data collection, and modeling of how people interact with or affect their environments have lagged behind corresponding activities on the physical climate system. The program should make transformational changes to adopt a holistic approach that connects research across disciplines, as well as engages policymakers and other stakeholders."

The report indicates that, ". . . targeted research in the natural sciences could help meet various community needs for climate information and services, such as drought forecasts for a particular region. These research initiatives would help address societal concerns of direct relevance to the program and provide a concrete focus for collecting human-dimensions data, the committee noted. The committee also said another priority should be to help establish a U.S. climate observing system that includes physical, biological, and social observations to ensure that data needed to address climate change are collected or continued.

They said, "Even if people significantly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, further climate change is inevitable. Therefore, CCSP needs to have the capacity to explain what is happening to climate and why. It should work with federal, state, and international agencies to establish and maintain the system, as well as determine the agencies' different roles and responsibilities for making the observations, archiving, and distributing data.

While CCSP is mandated to carry out a national assessment every four years, the last one involving a broad range of stakeholders was a decade ago. The committee said, "The collection of 21 synthesis and assessment reports published from 2006 to 2008 -- although useful -- did not add up to a comprehensive national assessment."

Access a release from NAS (
click here). Access links to the complete report and executive summary (click here). Access the 4-page report in brief summary (click here). [*Climate]