human populations, technology, or societal transitions with any clarity, the actual greenhouse gas emissions could be either greater or less than the IPCC scenarios. Without an understanding of the sources and degree of uncertainty, decision makers could fail to define the best ways to deal with the serious issue of global warming.
The SPM results from a discussion between the lead authors and government representatives (including also some non-governmental organizations and industry representatives). This discussion, combined with the requirement for consistency, results in some modifications of the text, all of which were carefully documented by the IPCC. This process has resulted in some concern that the scientific basis for the SPM might be altered. To assess this potential problem, the committee solicited written responses from U.S. coordinating lead authors and lead authors of IPCC chapters, reviewed the WGI draft report and summaries, and interviewed Dr. Daniel Albritton who served as a coordinating lead author for the IPCC WGI Technical Summary. Based on this analysis, the committee finds that no changes were made without the consent of the convening lead authors and that most changes that did occur lacked significant impact. However, some scientists may find fault with some of the technical details, especially if they appear to underestimate uncertainty. The SPM is accompanied by the more representative Technical Summary (TS). The SPM contains cross-references to the full text, which unfortunately is not accessible until a later date, but it does not cross-reference the accompanying TS.
The IPCC process demands a significant time commitment by members of the scientific community. As a result, many climate scientists in the United States and elsewhere choose not to participate at the level of a lead author even after being invited. Some take on less time-consuming roles as contributing authors or reviewers. Others choose not to participate. This may present a potential problem for the future. As the commitment to the assessment process continues to grow, this could create a form of self-selection for the participants. In such a case, the community of world climate scientists may develop cadres with particularly strong feelings about the outcome: some as favorable to the IPCC and its procedures and others negative about the use of the IPCC as a policy instrument. Alternative procedures are needed to ensure that participation in the work of the IPCC does not come at the expense of an individual's scientific career.
In addition, the preparation of the SPM involves both sci-enlists and governmental representatives. Governmental representatives are more likely to be tied to specific government postures with regard to treaties, emission controls, and other policy instruments. If scientific participation in the future becomes less representative and governmental representatives are tied to specific postures, then there is a risk that future IPCC efforts will not be viewed as independent processes.
The United States should promote actions that improve the IPCC process while also ensuring that its strengths are maintained. The most valuable contribution U.S. scientists can make is to continually question basic assumptions and conclusions, promote clear and careful appraisal and presentation of the uncertainties about climate change as well as those areas in which science is leading to robust conclusions, and work toward a significant improvement in the ability to project the future. In the process, we will better define the nature of the problems and ensure that the best possible information is available for policy makers.
The underlying scientific issues that have been discussed in this report and the research priorities that they define have evolved over time. For this reason, many have been identified previously in NRC reports. 1
Predictions of global climate change will require major advances in understanding and modeling of (1) the factors that determine atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and aerosols and (2) the so called “feedbacks” that determine the sensitivity of the climate system to a prescribed increase in greenhouse gases. Specifically, this will involve reducing uncertainty regarding: (a) future usage of fossil fuels, (b) future emissions of methane, (c) the fraction of the future fossil fuel carbon that will remain in the atmosphere and provide radiative forcing versus exchange with the oceans or net exchange with the land biosphere, (d) the feedbacks in the climate system that determine both the magnitude of the change and the rate of energy uptake by the oceans, which together determine the magnitude and time history of the temperature increases for a given radiative forcing, (e) the details of the regional and local climate change consequent to an overall level of global climate change, (f) the nature and causes of the natural variability of climate and its interactions with forced changes, and (g) the direct and indirect effects of the changing distributions of aerosol. Because the total change in radiative forcing from
1Decade-to-Century-Scale Climate Variability and Change: A Science Strategy, 1998; The Atmospheric Sciences Entering the Twenty-First Century, 1998; Adequacy of Climate Observing Systems, 1999; Global Environmental Change: Research Pathways for the Next Decade, 1999; Improving the Effectiveness of U.S. Climate Modeling, 2001; The Science of Regional and Global Change: Putting Knowledge to Work, 2001.