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News from the National Academies

Date: Feb. 18, 2004
Contacts: Bill Kearney, Director of Media Relations
Christian Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Government Climate Change Research Plan Provides Guiding Vision
And Should Be Implemented, But Needs Additional Funding

WASHINGTON -- 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 ]


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Earth and Life Studies

Committee for Review of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program Strategic Plan

Thomas E. Graedel1 (chair)
Professor of Industrial Ecology
School of Forestry and Environmental Studies
Yale University
New Haven, Conn.

Linda Capuano
Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Business Development
Honeywell Engines & Systems (retired)
San Jose, Calif.

Elizabeth Chornesky
Freelance Consultant, and
Research Associate
University of California
Santa Cruz

Mary Gade
Partner
Environmental Practice Group
Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal
Chicago

Katharine L. Jacobs
Associate Professor of Soil, Water, and Environmental Science
University of Arizona
Tucson

Anthony C. Janetos
Senior Research Fellow
H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment
Washington, D.C.

Charles D. Kolstad
Donald Bren Distinquished Professor of Environmental Economics and Policy
University of California
Santa Barbara

Diana M. Liverman
Director
Environmental Change Institute, and
Professor of Environmental Science
School of Geography and Environment
University of Oxford
Oxford, United Kingdom

Jerry D. Mahlman
Senior Research Fellow
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Boulder, Colo.

Diane McKnight
Professor of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering
University of Colorado
Boulder

Michael J. Prather
Professor and Kavli Chair
Earth System Science Department
University of California
Irvine

Eugene Rosa
Professor of Sociology, and
Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Natural Resource and Environmental Policy
Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service
Washington State University
Pullman

William H. Schlesinger2
James B. Duke Professor of Biogeochemistry, and
Dean
Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
Duke University
Durham, N.C.

David L. Skole
Professor of Geography, and
Director, Center for Global Change and Earth Observations
Michigan State University
East Lansing

Andrew R. Solow
Associate Scientist, and
Director, Marine Policy Center
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole, Mass.

Robert A. Weller
Director
Cooperative Institute for Climate and Ocean Research
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Woods Hole, Mass.

Stephen Wittrig
Director
Clean Energy: Facing the Future Program
BP Amoco Chemical Corp.
Naperville, Ill.

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Amanda Staudt
Study Director


1 Member, National Academy of Engineering
2 Member, National Academy of Sciences