Air Pollution Control Equipment Services, Emissions

Government’s climate change research plan should be implemented, but needs more funding

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2004 — The federal government should implement its revised strategic plan for climate change research as soon as possible, says a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council.

The committee that wrote the report said the plan is “much improved,” broader in scope, and more ambitious than a previously reviewed draft, but commitments to fund many of the newly proposed activities are lacking.

“Advancing the science called for in the plan will be of vital importance to the nation,” said committee chair Thomas E. Graedel, professor of industrial ecology, Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, New Haven, Conn. “There are still ways in which the plan could be improved, but at this point the main challenge is to implement it vigorously.”

The plan was written by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), a group formed two years ago to coordinate climate change research among 13 federal agencies. In its revised plan, CCSP tackles a wider array of research activities than the federal government pursued in the prior decade under the auspices of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, according to the committee.

In particular, the committee welcomed the plan’s new emphasis on achieving a better understanding of how climate change will affect ecosystems and people, as well as on research to support decisions about how to mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.

The revised plan’s explicit connection between research on climate change and the development of technologies to address it — a link that was weak in the draft plan — was applauded by the committee as well.

But for the plan’s expanded portfolio of research to succeed, it must be accompanied by an increase in funding, the committee noted. Although it was not given prospective budget information, the committee concluded that CCSP’s current budget does not appear capable of supporting all of the activities outlined in the strategic plan.

While some research in the plan has an established track record of funding by particular government agencies, newer and expanded areas, such as the study of climate change’s effects on ecosystems and humans, are likely to be underfunded.

A major upgrade in global climate observing capabilities and advances in computer models to project future changes in climate — both in the new plan — will require funding above current levels as well. The committee said that CCSP should secure sufficient funding for its plan to succeed and establish a clear process linking research tasks to agency budgets.

The purpose of the plan’s proposed synthesis and assessment reports also must be clarified, the committee said.

One goal of these reports should be to better meet the needs of national and regional decision-makers who must confront the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels or more frequent droughts, or who are considering policies to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

These reports also should provide periodic assessments of the effects of climate change, as specified in the 1990 Global Change Research Act, and help evaluate progress toward the objectives of the program.

Another hurdle facing CCSP, according to the committee, is ensuring the scientific independence and credibility of its research efforts. The presence of high-level political leaders in CCSP management should help the program secure resources, but it also may lead to a real or perceived political influence that could discredit the program.

To prevent this, CCSP should seek independent oversight, preferably by a standing advisory body. CCSP reports also should be reviewed by the wider scientific community and stakeholders such as government decision-makers, nongovernmental organizations, private industry, and other users of climate science.

The committee noted that CCSP has already set a high standard for government research programs by seeking advice not only from the Research Council but also from many other outside scientists and stakeholders.

Although the plan was developed for a 10-year time frame, it could effectively guide climate change research for decades, provided CCSP updates it every three to five years to reflect scientific and technical advances and the changing needs of the nation, the committee said.

The Research Council study was sponsored by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Implementing Climate and Global Change Research: A Review of the Final U.S. Climate Change Science Program Strategic Plan will be available later this winter from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org .