Introduction

Policy makers are increasingly seeking scientific advice on climate change adaptation strategies, despite a historic lack of funding and program development in this area. The existing research community focused on issues of climate change vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation is not necessarily prepared, organizationally or conceptually, to meet these growing public needs. This report summarizes a National Research Council (NRC) workshop at which presentations and discussion identified specific needs associated with this gap between the demand and supply of scientific information about climate change adaptation.

Climate change has become a dominant issue in U.S. policy arenas, with debates on the causes of climate change giving way to debates on the responses to climate change. The need for informed response strategies is voiced with increasing frequency by governments at all levels, as well as by groups in the private and nongovernmental sectors.

With effective climate change mitigation policies still under development, and with even the most aggressive proposals unable to halt climate change immediately, many decision makers are focusing unprecedented attention on the need for strategies to adapt to climate changes that are now unavoidable. The effects of climate change will touch every corner of the world’s economies and societies; adaptation is inevitable. The remaining question is to what extent humans will anticipate and reduce undesired consequences of climate change, or postpone response until after climate change impacts have altered ecological and socioeconomic systems so significantly that opportunities for adaptation become limited.



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Introduction Policy makers are increasingly seeking scientific advice on climate change adaptation strategies, despite a historic lack of funding and pro- gram development in this area. The existing research community focused on issues of climate change vulnerability, impacts, and adaptation is not necessarily prepared, organizationally or conceptually, to meet these growing public needs. This report summarizes a National Research Coun- cil (NRC) workshop at which presentations and discussion identified specific needs associated with this gap between the demand and supply of scientific information about climate change adaptation. Climate change has become a dominant issue in U.S. policy arenas, with debates on the causes of climate change giving way to debates on the responses to climate change. The need for informed response strategies is voiced with increasing frequency by governments at all levels, as well as by groups in the private and nongovernmental sectors. With effective climate change mitigation policies still under develop- ment, and with even the most aggressive proposals unable to halt climate change immediately, many decision makers are focusing unprecedented attention on the need for strategies to adapt to climate changes that are now unavoidable. The effects of climate change will touch every corner of the world’s economies and societies; adaptation is inevitable. The remain- ing question is to what extent humans will anticipate and reduce unde- sired consequences of climate change, or postpone response until after cli- mate change impacts have altered ecological and socioeconomic systems so significantly that opportunities for adaptation become limited. 

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 NEW DIRECTIONS IN CLIMATE CHANGE The second volume of the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergov- ernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which addresses impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, was produced by IPCC Working Group II in 2007. It summarizes the likely impacts of climate change already under way and the potential for adaptation to reduce vulnerability to, and the risks of, climate change. The IPCC assessment reports are produced through a uniquely rigorous, international, and consensus-based process that includes both government representatives and scientific experts. As such, it provides a powerful impetus for the identification of clear social needs and associated research priorities. In March 2008 a panel under the auspices of the NRC’s Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change convened lead U.S. authors of the IPCC Working Group II report, federal agency representatives, and other interested individuals to discuss next steps in the develop- ment of a needs-driven research agenda on climate change vulnerabil- ity, impacts, and adaptation. Formal workshop presentations were aug- mented by extended discussions, all of which are summarized in this report. Although this report identifies themes that were expressed by several of the workshop participants, it cannot be construed as a consen- sus statement. The next section of this report summarizes the introductory remarks and six presentations that began the workshop. The following three sections present the discussions, organized by topic. The last section covers the final workshop session. The Appendix lists the workshop participants.