1
Introduction

A CHANGING CONTEXT FOR CLIMATE RESEARCH

Climate change is one of the most important global environmental problems facing the world today. A strong scientific consensus has developed that the observed large warming trend of the late twentieth century will continue unabated in the coming decades and that human activities are the major drivers for many of the observed changes. The United States has been experiencing unusually hot days and nights, heavy downpours, severe droughts, and frequent fires in regions such as California (Karl et al., 2008). More intense hurricanes with the future warming of the tropical north Atlantic are also a potential threat for the United States (Elsner et al., 2008).

Despite international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, global consumption of fossil fuels continues to grow about 1.8 percent annually (IEA, 2007), driven by demand for energy both in developed countries, which are responsible for most of the historical accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, and in emerging economies such as China and India. Globally, CO2 emissions grew at a record rate of 3.5 percent per year from 2000 to 2007, compared with a rate of 0.9 percent per year from 1990 to 1999 (Global Carbon Project, 2008). World marketed energy consumption is projected to grow by 50 percent from 2005 to 2030 (EIA, 2008b). CO2 concentrations from fossil fuel burning and other sources are projected to increase from 2005 levels of 379 ppm to



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 11
1 Introduction A CHANGING CONTEXT FOR CLIMATE RESEARCH C limate change is one of the most important global environ- mental problems facing the world today. A strong scientific consensus has developed that the observed large warming trend of the late twentieth century will continue unabated in the coming decades and that human activities are the major drivers for many of the observed changes. The United States has been experi- encing unusually hot days and nights, heavy downpours, severe droughts, and frequent fires in regions such as California (Karl et al., 2008). More intense hurricanes with the future warming of the tropical north Atlantic are also a potential threat for the United States (Elsner et al., 2008). Despite international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, global consumption of fossil fuels continues to grow about 1.8 percent annually (IEA, 2007), driven by demand for energy both in developed countries, which are responsible for most of the histori- cal accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, and in emerging economies such as China and India. Globally, CO2 emissions grew at a record rate of 3.5 percent per year from 2000 to 2007, com- pared with a rate of 0.9 percent per year from 1990 to 1999 (Global Carbon Project, 2008). World marketed energy consump- tion is projected to grow by 50 percent from 2005 to 2030 (EIA, 2008b). CO2 concentrations from fossil fuel burning and other sources are projected to increase from 2005 levels of 379 ppm to 11

OCR for page 11
12 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH FIGURE 1.1 Illustrative CO2 emission profiles (A) and corresponding concentrations (B) derived from Wigley et al. (1996) and given in CCTP (2006). The equilibrium surface temperature change associated with steady-state concentrations is shown in red in (B). The surface warming estimates adopt the IPCC (2007a)-recommended climate sensitivity of 3°C warming due to a doubling of CO2. In addition, they assume that aerosols from air pollution are eliminated and that other greenhouse gases are fixed at 2005 values. SOURCE: Modified from CCTP (2006). about 440 ppm by 2030 (Figure 1.1), committing the planet to ad- ditional warming. These projections are based on estimates that CO2 emissions in China increased at an annual rate of about 3 to 4 percent during the past 10 years (IPCC, 2007a; IEA, 2007), but a subsequent province-based inventory concluded that emissions actually increased at a higher rate of about 10 to 11 percent (Auff- hammer and Carson, 2008). For comparison, total fossil fuel emissions from the United States increased by about 11 percent over the entire 10-year period.1 Emissions from a number of other developed countries were also higher than agreed-to targets. These disparities between projected and actual emissions underscore the large uncertainties inherent in projecting CO2 and other green- house gas emissions, particularly beyond a decade. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pro- jections may have been too conservative in other cases as well. For example, observed increases in surface temperatures and sea level from 1990 to 2007 were in the upper range of IPCC model predic- 1 http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/tre_usa.html.

OCR for page 11
INTRODUCTION 13 tions (Rahmstorf et al., 2007). The retreat of summer Arctic sea ice and snow extent (Déry and Brown, 2007) and melting of the Greenland and Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers (Liu et al., 2006; Kul- karni et al., 2007) may also be larger and faster than predicted. Again, these errors illustrate the large uncertainties in projections of future climate by models used in IPCC and other assessments. Although the scientific consensus is that the global climate is changing, the research is less conclusive on whether the frequency of abnormal climate events (e.g., prolonged droughts, extensive flooding) will change, how climate change will be manifested re- gionally, or what impact the changes will have on society. The effects of climate change as well as the vulnerability and resilience of communities and their ability to respond are expected to vary by region (Adger et al., 2007). These effects will not be felt in isola- tion—the climate is changing against a backdrop of a growing world population and a global economy. At risk is the capacity of the world to provide affordable energy, water, and food to 6.7 bil- lion people. Continuation of the trends of the latter half of the twentieth century, predicted by the IPCC, will introduce natural and social system stresses that will affect public health, economic prosperity, and national security (Box 1.1). Increased greenhouse gas levels have already warmed the planet by 0.8°C and even without further increases, the planet will warm another 0.5°C to 2.5°C, depending in part on future regulation of aerosol emissions (IPCC, 2007a; Ramanathan and Feng, 2008). Planned adaptation, in addition to mitigation, is already becoming necessary. The public and private sectors are beginning to take actions to adapt to climate change and to mitigate future effects, from shifts toward renewable sources of energy by power companies to green- house reduction statutes and policies in California and other states to regional and international carbon trading and offset programs (e.g., Chicago Climate Exchange, European Union’s Emission Trading Scheme; Rabe, 2004). Nearly 80 percent of U.S. states have adopted or are preparing climate action plans,2 and some are taking action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, often in part- nership with regional efforts such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (2005, northeastern states), Western Climate Initiative 2 http://www.perclimate.org/what_s_being_done/in_the_states/action_plan _map.cfm.

OCR for page 11
14 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH (2007), Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform for the Midwest (2007), Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative (2004, Western Governor’s Association), and the Midwestern Regional Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord (2007). Foundations are fund- ing hundreds of grants for applied climate change research, much of it dealing with evaluating and informing policy.3 More than 235 climate-related bills, resolutions, or amendments were introduced in the 110th Congress, twice as many as were introduced in the preceding session,4 and the Select Committee on Energy Inde- pendence and Global Warming was created in the House of Representatives. Authorization for research was a common theme in a number of the bills, including research needed to support deci- sions on mitigation and adaption (see Appendix A for examples of U.S. legislation under consideration). It is in this context of larger than predicted climate changes, alarming increases in CO2 emissions, and decision makers at all levels increasingly willing to respond to such unprecedented de- velopments that we must consider how climate change research should evolve in the United States. A federal science program is needed to comprehend the nature and extent of the climate change threat, to quantify the magnitude of impacts, and to provide a data and knowledge foundation for identifying effective adaptation and mitigation options, with sufficient flexibility to respond to unfore- seen problems. Despite these pressing requirements, however, the federal climate change research budget has shrunk from a peak of about $2.4 billion in the mid 1990s to $1.8 billion (in constant 2007 dollars) today.5 3 A search of the Foundation Center’s directory (http://fconline.fdncenter.org) revealed over 300 grants made by almost 50 different private foundations for climate change-related research from 2003 to 2008, totaling nearly $62 million. An assessment by California Environmental Associates identified roughly $200 million of total annual philanthropic funding for climate issues (see http://www.climate actionproject.com/docs/Design_ to_Win_8_01_07.pdf). 4 http://www.pewclimate.org/what_s_being_done/in_the_congress/ 110thcongress.cfm. 5 See http://www.climatescience.gov/infosheets/ccsp-8/. Although it is clear that the CCSP budget has declined, the amount is unknown because which activities are included in the program are designated by the partici- pating agencies and vary from year to year (NRC, 2007c). For example,

OCR for page 11
INTRODUCTION 15 BOX 1.1 Climate Change and U.S. National Security Climate change is increasingly being discussed in the United States as a national security issue. A number of independent think tanks have identified climate change as a threat to national security (e.g., Busby, 2007; CNA Corporation, 2007). In May 2007, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on climate change threats from the per- spective of the U.S. military.a In June 2008, a national intelligence assessment entitled National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030 was presented to the House Permanent Select Commit- tee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.b The chair of the National Intelligence Council testified that the most significant climate impacts on U.S. national security will be through climate-driven effects on other countries. For ex- ample, increasing poverty, food and water shortages, intrastate disputes over water resources, and economic migration could exacerbate political instability in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. The intelligence assessment, which relied on CCSP re- sults and other published sources, calls for better information on the physical, agricultural, economic, social, and political impacts of climate change at state and regional levels; a better understanding of human be- havior; and research to integrate social, economic, military, and political models. In January 2009, the White House issued a national security presi- dential directive updating its policy on the Arctic region to account for the effects of climate change, human activity, and altered national policies on homeland security and defense.c In the directive, international scientific cooperation—including collaborative research, data collection, and model- ing to predict regional environmental and climate change—is seen as vital to promoting U.S. interests in the region. CCSP-sponsored research re- sults and products are likely to be important for implementing the directive. ________________________ a http://foreign.senate.gov/hearings/2007/hrg070509a.html. b Testimony of Thomas Fingar, Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Select Committee on Energy In- dependence and Global Warming, on the National Intelligence Assessment, National Security Implications of Global Climate Change to 2030, June 25, 2008, http://media.npr.org/documents/2008/jun/warming_intelligence.pdf. c White House Memorandum on Arctic Region Policy, National Security Presidential Directive NSPD 66, January 9, 2009. funding to NOAA’s laboratories was counted as CCSP beginning in FY 2006, and NASA revised which missions it counted as supporting CCSP goals in FY 2008 (CCSP, 2008).

OCR for page 11
16 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH COMMITTEE CHARGE AND APPROACH The Global Change Research Act of 1990 established the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to coordinate federally- sponsored research “to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.”6 A new ad- ministration in 2001 ushered in the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), which placed new emphasis on investigating uncertainties and expanded the USGCRP mandate to include research that could yield results within a few years, either by improving decision-making capabilities or by contributing to improved public understanding. The vision for the CCSP is “a nation and the global community empow- ered with the science based knowledge to manage the risks and opportunities of change in the climate and related environmental sys- tems” (CCSP, 2003). The change of administration in 2009 will likely result in another change in the name and emphasis of the program. In this report, the post-CCSP is referred to as a “restructured climate change research program.” This report is the second of two on the evolution of the CCSP. The first report, Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results (NRC, 2007c), assessed CCSP progress over the past 4 years (see the Preface for a summary of the findings). This second report identifies future pri- orities for addressing pressing national and global problems related to climate changes. The charge to the committee was: Task 2. The committee will examine the program elements de- scribed in the Climate Change Science Program strategic plan and identify priorities to guide the future evolution of the pro- gram in the context of established scientific and societal objectives. These priorities may include adjustments to the balance of science and applications, shifts in emphasis given to the various scientific themes, and identification of program elements not supported in the past. The recommendations will specify which priorities could likely be addressed through an evolution of existing activities or reprogramming, and which would likely require new resources or partnerships. 6 P.L. 101-606, 104 Stat. 3096-3104 (1990).

OCR for page 11
INTRODUCTION 17 The CCSP is organized along scientific themes (e.g., atmospheric composition) or crosscutting issues (e.g., observations) that largely followed the structure of the USGCRP (Appendix B). Such an ap- proach was effective when the main research focus was on understanding how the climate system works. Addressing the research challenges noted above, however, requires a more comprehensive approach that better incorporates and integrates research on natural science, human dimensions, and practical applications (e.g., decision support; see definitions in Box 1.2) to address multiple interactions, feedbacks, and options for action. To illustrate what is meant by an integrated approach, the committee chose seven examples of climate change issues of im- portance to society that will have to be addressed in a restructured climate change research program. Examples of such societal issues are illustrated in Figure 1.2. The committee then matched the societal issues with research priorities identified from meetings, workshops, white papers, and peer-reviewed literature. The research and infra- structure (e.g., modeling) needed to address the integrated scientific- societal issues formed the basis for the committee’s final list of pri- orities for a restructured climate change research program. The envisioned research program laid out in this report is ambitious and daunting, but so are the challenges posed by global warming and the potential strategic impacts on our nation. The climate-energy nexus is at the core of everything dis- cussed in this report. In choosing its priorities, the committee assumed that renewable energy, energy efficiency, and geoengi- neering and other technologies for mitigating climate change would continue to remain the responsibility of the Climate Change Technology Program (CCTP). Although the committee recognizes that developing mitigation options requires CCSP science—for example, assessments of the environmental impacts of proposed low- and no-carbon energy technologies will undoubtedly be needed—a review of CCTP science needs was beyond both the charge and resources available to the committee.

OCR for page 11
18 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH BOX 1.2 Definition of Terms Used in This Report Adaptation: Adjustment in natural or human systems in response to cli- matic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities Applications: Activities that use research results to further practical ob- jectives, such as informing the public about regional climate change impacts and supporting decision making Climate change issues of importance to society: Widely discussed topics that could affect the public’s well-being, such as long-term drought Climate quality observations: Physical or biological observations capa- ble of producing a time series of measurements of sufficient length, consistency, and continuity to determine climate variability and change Climate services: A mechanism to identify, produce, and deliver authori- tative and timely information about climate variations and trends and their impacts on built, social-human, and natural systems on regional, national, and global scales to support decision making Mitigation: A human intervention to reduce the anthropogenic forcing of the climate system, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and en- hancing greenhouse gas sinks Operations: Routine provision of science-based products and services developed to meet specialized needs of stakeholders, either for decision making (e.g., local or regional forecasts) or in support of long-term research (e.g., continuous and systematic measurements of climate variables) Science: Research aimed at discovering fundamental truths about nature, motivated by either intellectual curiosity or social aims • Natural science: Research on the behavior of the natural (physi- cal-biogeochemical) climate system • Human dimensions: Research drawing on the social, economic, and behavioral sciences and covering human systems drivers of climate change, human systems impacts of climate change, and human systems responses to concerns about or observed effects of climate change • Integrated research: A multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary approach to a particular climate change issue that addresses physical, biological, and human dimensions research and their relationships, interactions, and feedbacks, as well as the research needed to support applications Stakeholders: Individuals or organizations that generate or use climate information and products, including research scientists; private compa- nies, and nongovernmental organizations in the insurance, agriculture, energy, forestry, transportation, water resources, public health, and emer- gency response sectors; federal, state, and local government agencies; and policy makers ________ SOURCES: NRC (2004a, 2005b); IPCC (2007c, d).

OCR for page 11
INTRODUCTION 19 FIGURE 1.2 Examples of societally important issues, in the form of ma- jor impacts of climate changes associated with increasing global temperatures. The left side of the text indicates when impacts (black lines) begin and the dashed arrows show their continuation with rising temperature. NOTE: † Significant is defined here as more than 40 per- cent. ‡ Based on an average rate of sea level rise of 4.2 mm/year from 2000 to 2080. SOURCE: Adapted from IPCC (2007c), Figure SPM2, Cambridge University Press. Used with permission. ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT This report lays out an approach for integrating scientific and societal objectives and identifies priorities for a restructured cli- mate research program. Chapter 2 presents examples of seven scientific issues of importance to society and the integrated re- search needed to address them. The committee’s process for identifying the research needs is described in Appendix C. The starting point was the gaps and weaknesses identified in the NRC (2007c) report Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change

OCR for page 11
20 RESTRUCTURING FEDERAL CLIMATE RESEARCH Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results (Preface) and discussion papers on research priorities in the human dimensions (Appendix D) and natural science (Appendix E) prepared by the Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change and the Climate Research Committee, respectively. These priorities were vetted at two stakeholder workshops by individuals listed in Ap- pendix F, and the final ones were chosen by the committee. Chapter 3 discusses the current gaps, shifts in emphasis, and future priorities for a restructured climate research program, along with the organizational and resource implications for implementing them. Finally, biographical sketches of committee members and a list of acronyms and abbreviations appear in Appendixes G and H, respectively.