Friday, March 13, 2009

NAS Report Warns Climate Change Alters Design Assumptions

Mar 12: A report from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), National Research Council (NRC) warns that many state and local officials and private organizations are basing decisions -- such as how to build bridges, manage water supplies, implementing zoning rules, using private motor vehicles -- on the assumption that current climate conditions will continue, but that assumption is no longer valid. The report recommends that to produce the climate information these decision makers need and to deliver it to them effectively, Federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. EPA should expand their activities in these areas.

The report -- Informing Decisions In A Changing Climate -- recommends six principles that all agencies should follow in supporting decision makers who are facing the effects of climate change. The report says, "agencies' efforts should be driven by the needs of end users in the field, not by scientific research priorities. And agencies should create close ties between the scientists who produce climate change information and the practitioners who use it." The committee that wrote the report also urged an expansion of Federal research to generate the information regional and local decision makers need -- for example, studies on which locations are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and on ways to mitigate or adapt to these effects. Studies should also assess the best ways to collect and disseminate such information.

In addition, the report calls for a new Federal initiative to identify and serve decision makers, such as county planners, who may not already be served by particular agencies. This new initiative should not be centralized in a single agency; instead, it should involve and coordinate all agencies that either serve constituencies affected by climate change or collect the information that these decision makers need. This broad initiative will need strong leadership from the Executive Office of the President, including the President's science adviser and the new coordinator of energy and climate policy.

According to the report, "As a result of human activity, the average temperature of Earth will soon leave the less-than-1 degree Celsius range that it has maintained for more than 10,000 years. Moreover, despite 15 years of intense international climate negotiations, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have been growing 33 percent faster during the last 8 years than they did in the 1990s.

"Climate change will create a novel and dynamic decision environment. The parameters of the new climate regime cannot be envisioned from past experience. Moreover, climatic changes will be superimposed on social and economic changes that are altering the climate vulnerability of different regions and sectors of society, as well as their ability to cope. Decision makers will need new kinds of information and new ways of thinking and learning to function effectively in a changing climate. Many decision makers are experiencing or anticipating a new climate regime and are asking questions about climate change and potential responses to it that federal agencies are unprepared to answer. . .

"Our study found that climate change poses challenges not only for the many decision makers it will affect, but also for federal agencies and for the scientific community. The end of climate stationarity requires that organizations and individuals alter their standard practices and decision routines to account for climate change."

Among the many recommendations contained in the report, the first recommendations is: "Government agencies at all levels and other organizations, including in the scientific community, should organize their decision support efforts around six principles of effective decision support: (1) begin with users’ needs; (2) give priority to process over products; (3) link information producers and users; (4) build connections across disciplines and organizations; (5) seek institutional stability; and (6) design processes for learning."

Access a release on the report from NAS (click here). Access links to the complete report and an executive summary (click here). [*Climate]