In particular, science can help identify possible courses of action, evaluate the advantages and disadvantages associated with different choices (including trade-offs, unintended consequences, and co-benefits among different sets of actions), develop new options, and improve the options that are available. It can also assist in the development of new, more effective decision-making processes and tools. These goals require interactive processes that engage both scientists and decision makers to identify research topics and improve methods for linking scientific analysis with decision making. Active dialogue with stakeholders at local, regional, national, and international levels can also enhance the utility and credibility of, and support for, scientific research. Strategies, tools, and approaches for improving linkages between science and decision making are described in Chapter 4 and discussed in detail in the companion volume Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (NRC, 2010b).
As climate change progresses, past climate conditions and human experiences will serve as less and less reliable guides for decision makers (see Chapter 3 and also NRC, 2009g). Even with continued advances in scientific understanding, projections of the future will always include some uncertainties. Moreover, because climate changes interact with so many resource and infrastructure decisions, from power plant design to crop planting dates, responses to climate change will need to be developed and implemented in the context of continuously evolving conditions. Furthermore, as actions are taken to limit the magnitude of future climate change and adapt to its impacts, decision makers will need to understand and take the effectiveness and unintended consequences of these actions into account.
As a direct result of these complexities and uncertainties, all responses to climate change, including the next generation of scientific research, will require deliberate “learning by doing.” Actions and strategies will need to be periodically evaluated and revised to take advantage of new information and knowledge, not only about climate and climate-related changes but also about the effectiveness of responses to date and about other changes in human and environmental systems. The nation’s scientific enterprise should support adaptive risk management (i.e., an ongoing decision-making process that takes known and potential risks and uncertainties into account and periodically updates and improves plans and strategies as new information becomes available—see Box 3.1) by monitoring climate change indicators, providing timely information about the effectiveness of actions taken to respond to climate risks, im-