Indicator: A selected subset of metrics that is judged helpful for projecting future performance of a system.

This report is envisioned as a technical document for use by analysts in the intelligence community, as well as researchers, as they delve more deeply into climate change and its ramifications worldwide. Developing interdisciplinary metrics that intersect with environmental sustainability and human well-being, as done in this report, is an important step in thinking about how to monitor the impacts of climate change.


The committee began by identifying examples of domains of human vulnerability where change is likely to occur in the near term and where climate change impacts on humans begin to be significant. Each domain is an area of critical importance to society, is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, and highlights the intersection of human needs and climate change. This report concludes that indicators of environmental sustainability, in a climate change context, can be found at the intersection of how the climate is changing and how those changes will affect five domains of human vulnerability.

These five domains are:

  • Food: Climate change impacts may result in competition for declining food resources (both fisheries and agriculture) as well as shifting patterns of harvest. This could lead to food shortages and famines in less developed countries, as well as a variety of economic ramifications.

  • Water: Climate change stands to affect future water distribution, quantity, and quality. This could lead to lack of water, water of poor quality, or too much water at the wrong time in many locations around the globe.

  • Energy: Anthropogenic input of CO2 to the atmosphere is well established as a cause of climate change. The pressure to “decarbonize” over the next few decades will inevitably result in new approaches to energy use, which will, in turn, have potentially unforeseen environmental impacts.

  • Shelter: Humans need shelter as a basic element for quality of life. Natural disasters such as flood, drought, and wildfire both threaten existing shelter and increase the need for shelter. Many of these extreme events may be exacerbated by climate change.

  • Health: A changing climate may affect any health outcome that is influenced by environmental conditions, such as an increase in mosquito- and water- borne diseases.


A global-scale process is one that is manifested in all regions of the planet, such as the biogeochemical cycles of carbon and nitrogen or the hydrologic cycle. The committee finds that observations of global-scale processes are especially valuable from

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