programs have played a critical role in establishing our present understanding. However, in general they have not been as successful in bridging the gaps between those who study the physical climate system; those who study the impacts of and responses to climate change in human, ecological, and coupled human-environment systems; and those who study the technical, economic, political, behavioral, and other aspects of various responses to climate change (ICSU-IGFA, 2009; NRC, 2009k). Moreover, a concerted effort is needed to increase the engagement of some disciplines, such as the social, behavioral, economic, decision, cognitive, and communication sciences.
Achieving better integration will require significant increases in interdisciplinary science capacity among scientists, managers, and decision makers. It will require changes in cultures within and actions across a range of institutions, including universities, government, the private sector, research institutes, professional societies, and other nongovernmental organizations, including the National Research Council. It will also require the creation of new institutions to facilitate the needed research at the appropriate scales and in appropriate contact with decision makers.
This report recognizes the need for research to both understand climate changes and assist in decision making related to climate change. In categorizing types of scientific research, we have found that terms such as “pure,” “basic,” “applied,” and “curiosity driven” have different definitions across communities, are as likely to cause confusion as to advance consensus, and are of limited value in discussing climate change. A more compelling categorization is offered by Stokes (1997), who argues that two questions should be asked of a research topic: Does it contribute to fundamental understanding? Can it be expected to be useful? Research that can answer yes to both of these questions, or “fundamental, use-inspired research,” warrants special priority in a climate science enterprise that seeks to both increase understanding and assist in decision making. Research that addresses one or the other of Stoke’s questions, which describes the full range of scientific inquiry, is also valuable. Priority setting is discussed in further detail in the next section.
Although making choices about how to respond to climate change fundamentally involves values, ethics, and trade-offs, science can inform and guide such decisions.