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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Science to Achieve Results

At the request of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, the U.S. National Research Council has prepared a report identifying the future challenges for U.S. climate change research entitled, Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change. While the report acknowledges the significant acheivements that have been made through U.S. investments in disciplinary research, it also calls for a transformation of the existing research framework to better equip decision-makers with policy-relevant knowledge:

"The traditional approach of organizing climate change research by scientific disciplines (e.g., atmospheric chemistry) or biophysical processes (e.g., carbon cycle) has led to significant advances in our understanding of the climate system and the creation of a robust observations and modeling infrastructure. However, the paucity of social science research and the separation of natural and social science research within the CCSP, as well as the insufficient engagement of policy makers, resource managers, and other stakeholders in the program are hindering our ability to address the problems that face society. Solving these problems requires research on the end-to-end climate change problem, from understanding causes and processes to supporting actions needed to cope with the impending societal problems of climate change."
The report identifies six key priorities for U.S. climate change research:
  1. Reorganize the program around integrated scientific-societal issues to facilitate crosscutting research focused on understanding the interactions among the climate, human, and environmental systems and on supporting societal responses to
    climate change.
  2. Establish a U.S. climate observing system, defined as including physical, biological, and social observations, to ensure that data needed to address climate change are collected or continued.
  3. Develop the science base and infrastructure to support a new generation of coupled Earth system models to improve attribution and prediction of high-impact regional weather and climate, to initialize seasonal-to-decadal climate forecasting, and to provide predictions of impacts affecting adaptive capacities and vulnerabilities of environmental and human systems.
  4. Strengthen research on adaptation, mitigation, and vulnerability.
  5. Initiate a national assessment process with broad stakeholder participation to determine the risks and costs of climate change impacts on the United States and to evaluate options for responding.
  6. Coordinate federal efforts to provide climate services (scientific information, tools, and forecasts) routinely to decision makers.

Some of the recommended actions are clearly being advanced, including the development of a national climate service and a national assessment of sorts in the form of America's Climate Choices. Meanwhile, the devevlopment of a robust system for observations and the maintenance of U.S. modelling capacity has long been a stated priority of the research community. What is therefore of note is the prioritisation of reearch into coupled human/environment systems to inform societal responses, including explicit research on adaptation, mitigation and vulnerability. This shift in focus likely will be welcome for those who have spent the past decade watching the U.S. lead in the investigation of the physical sciences associated with climate change while simultaneously providing little support for those struggling to decide what to do about it. Naturally, it remains to be seen how these recommendations are translated into new programs and changes in federal appropriations for climate change research.

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