impossible, we encourage the Program to explore alternative ways of accessing that capacity – for instance, through engagement of the broader research community in universities and other laboratories, using a variety of grants and contracts. Unless the capacity issue is specifically addressed in this Plan, the USGCRP will likely fail to achieve the promised broadening of its scope.
In the Committee’s judgment, the implied strategy of putting all the new elements of the Plan on hold until the funding situation improves is a mistake. The Strategic Plan itself makes compelling arguments for broadening the Program now to strengthen science for decision support, to more broadly integrate all the sciences of global change for earth system understanding, to develop science to inform climate change mitigation and adaptation decisions, and so forth. Unless the Program begins to invest in these new elements now, it runs the risk of supporting only research that (while of high scientific merit) may not deserve highest priority in terms of meeting the nation’s needs for responding to global change. Moreover, without progress now, the Program will lack capacity to develop these areas later, if and when the funding situation improves. As suggested earlier, many of the initial investments that would help the Program broaden its scope are relatively low in cost and need not be postponed. Scientific priority setting should focus on the value of the information likely to be produced, more than on maintaining the momentum of past efforts.
The Committee believes that the Plan should explicitly acknowledge the challenges of phasing in new elements of the Program. The Program could face these challenges by: (1) establishing an appropriate interagency governance structure that has the authority, responsibility, and resources needed to implement the broader Program; and (2) identifying a set of specific, relatively low-cost initial efforts that lay the groundwork for a broader Program and improving the capacity of the participating agencies to undertake the planned work. Such an approach would, we believe, be feasible within the current budgetary context, and it would turn the planned broadening of the Program from what may seem like dubious promises into a credible Strategic Plan.
The proposed broadening of the Program – to better integrate the social and ecological sciences, to inform decisions about mitigation and adaptation, and to emphasize decision support more generally – is welcome and in fact essential for meeting the legislative mandate for a program aimed at understanding and responding to global change. Although this broader scope is needed, implementing it presents a grand challenge that should be met with more than just incremental solutions.
An effective global change research enterprise requires an integrated observational system that connects observations of the physical environment with a wide variety of social and ecological observations. Such a system is a crucial foundation for identifying and tracking global changes; for evaluating the drivers, vulnerabilities, and responses to such changes; and for identifying opportunities to increase the resilience of both human and natural systems. The Plan needs to describe a clear vision and specific objectives for adding and integrating new types of observations, along with a commitment to some concrete steps towards realizing this vision.