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Date:  Sept. 13, 2007

Contacts:  Jennifer Walsh, Media Relations Officer

William Kearney, Director of Media Relations

Kimberly Berryman, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

U.S. Climate Change Science Program Making Good Progress

In Documenting And Understanding Changes, But Study Of Impacts On Humans And Communication With Decision Makers Lag

 

WASHINGTON -- Climate change research directed by the federal government has made good progress in documenting and understanding temperature trends and related environmental changes on a global scale, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The ability to predict future climate changes also has improved, but efforts to understand the impact of such changes on society and analyze mitigation and adaptation strategies are still relatively immature, added the committee that wrote the report.  Moreover, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), which oversees federal research in this area, has made inadequate progress in supporting decision making, studying regional impacts, and communicating with a wider group of stakeholders.

 

"CCSP, an important initiative that has broadened our knowledge of climate change, needs to package more of that knowledge for policymakers from the national to local level, and place more emphasis on understanding how people will be affected by climate change and how they might react," said committee chair Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.

 

Adjustments will have to be made in the balance between basic science and applications if CCSP is to achieve its vision of producing information that can be used to formulate strategies for preventing, mitigating, and adapting to the effects of climate change, the committee stated.  It did not offer recommendations for how to sustain and improve the program's basic science while strengthening its applications, but this will be among the subjects considered in a follow-up report that the committee expects to issue early next year.

 

The report was requested by CCSP's former director, who asked the Research Council to develop a process for evaluating the program and to conduct a preliminary assessment of its progress.  The committee's report is the first review of CCSP's progress since the program was established in 2002.

 

The committee developed a two-stage evaluation process.  The first stage, presented in this report, assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the entire program, and identifies areas where progress has not met expectations and that should be subject to more detailed analysis during a second stage of  evaluation.  This second stage, to be completed by CCSP because it requires detailed budget and management information not readily available to the committee, would diagnose the reasons for weaknesses and identify strategies for improving the program.

 

In its review, the committee concluded that discovery science and understanding of the overall climate system are proceeding well.  For example, knowledge of the nature and extent of atmospheric warming and other climate changes over the past few decades and the influence of human activities on these observed changes has advanced significantly.  In addition, models that have demonstrated reasonable success in reproducing past climate conditions are improving confidence in future projections.  Understanding of the water cycle has also improved, and good progress has been made in documenting land-use changes and estimating how carbon is distributed around the planet. 

 

Uncertainties remain in other aspects of global climate change, particularly the role of man-made aerosols in masking greenhouse warming, the response of hurricanes and ice sheets to global warming, and how climate feedbacks -- the dynamics of water vapor and clouds, for example -- amplify or dampen the effects of greenhouse gases and other climate-change forces.

 

Overall, research into the social sciences, including human drivers of climate change such as energy consumption, the impact on human systems such as political institutions and economies, and mitigation and adaptation options, is much less developed than research on the natural climate system.  One reason for the slow progress is that only $25 million to $30 million of CCSP's $1.7 billion annual budget is devoted to such research.  In addition, few social scientists are in leadership positions at the participating federal agencies, making it difficult for CCSP to increase emphasis in this area or to establish links with the academic social science community.

 

Even where good scientific progress is being made, use of new knowledge to support decision making and risk analysis is proceeding slowly, according to the committee.  For instance, although CCSP's temperature trends assessment was influential in this year's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 19 other synthesis and assessment products that were scheduled for release by now are still in production.

 

One way CCSP could bridge the gap between science and decision making would be to more closely examine the impact of climate change at regional and local scales, the report says.  More accurate models, better regional observations, and the development of impact scenarios will be required to improve predictions of how climate change will affect smaller spatial scales.

 

Better communication from CCSP also will be critical for confronting climate change at the local level.  CCSP should build upon the two-way dialogue envisioned in its strategic plan by engaging state and local officials, nongovernmental organizations, industry, and the climate change technology community.  This dialogue should go beyond communicating research results to asking what is needed from the program.  The committee acknowledged that more resources will be needed to bolster such relationships.

 

A major hurdle to CCSP progress is the program director's lack of authority to allocate or prioritize funding across participating agencies, the committee said.  Likewise, many of the members of CCSP's interagency working groups have little budgetary authority to implement the program's research agenda.  As a result, progress tends to occur when the priorities of the 13 participating agencies coincide with CCSP's goals.

 

The committee emphasized that high-quality data from satellites have been crucial to the advancement of climate change science.  However, a number of planned satellite missions have been cancelled or seriously delayed, presenting perhaps the single greatest threat to the future success of CCSP, according to the committee.  Without these satellites, scientists' ability to monitor and predict climate change will decline, even as the urgency of doing so increases.

 

The committee is holding a workshop in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15-17, to discuss future priorities for CCSP research, which will be the focus of its follow-up report.

 

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.  The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies.  They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.  The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  A committee roster follows.

Copies of Evaluating Progress Of The U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods And Preliminary Results will be available 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

Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences

Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education

 

Committee on Strategic Advice on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program

Veerabhadran Ramanathan (Chair)
Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences,
   and Victor C. Alderson Professor of Applied Ocean Sciences
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California
San Diego

Christopher O. Justice (Vice Chair)
Director of Research and Professor
Department of Geography
University of Maryland
College Park

John B. Carberry
Director of Environmental Technology

E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.

Wilmington, Del.

 

Robert E. Dickinson

Professor
School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences

Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta

 

Eileen E. Hofmann

Professor
Department of Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, and

Member

Center for Coastal Physical

Oceanography

Old Dominion University

Norfolk, Va.

 

James W. Hurrell

Director

Climate and Global Dynamics Division

National Center for Atmospheric

Research

Boulder, Colo.

 

Jeanine A. Jones
Interstate Resources Manager
California Department of Water Resources

Sacramento

 

Roger E. Kasperson
Research Professor and Distinguished Scientist

Clark University

Worcester, Mass.

 

Charles D. Kolstad

Professor
Donald Bren Professor of Environmental Economics and Policy
Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, and
   Department of Economics

University of California

Santa Barbara

 

Maria Carmen Lemos
Associate Professor of Natural Resources and Environment

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, and

Senior Policy Analyst
Udall Center for Studies of Public Policy

University of Arizona

Tucson

 

Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli

Professor
Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and

Director
Joint Program in Oceanography and Ocean Engineering of MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Cambridge, Mass.

 

Ellen S. Mosley-Thompson

Professor

Department of Geography, and

Research Scientist

Byrd Polar Research Center

Ohio State University

Columbus

 

Guido D. Salvucci

Professor and Chair

Department of Earth Sciences, and

Professor

Department of Geography and

Environment

Boston University

Boston

 

Susan E. Trumbore

Professor

Department of Earth System Science, and

Director
Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics

University of California

Irvine

 

T. Stephen Wittrig

Director of Advanced Technologies

BP

Naperville, Ill.

 

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

 

Anne Linn

Study Director