• The NCA must consider mitigation and adaption activities as essential to an assessment of this scope. However, this points to an ambiguity in the GCRA mandate, which is not fully clarified in the NCA draft. The assessment definition above, with its focus on scientific knowledge, can comfortably encompass information about climate change, its impacts, and the social vulnerabilities implied in those impacts. But when discussing mitigation and adaptation response options, there is a gray area between describing the current state of scientific knowledge and offering guidance on what actions to take. Some would argue that the effort should be limited to only assessing knowledge (including knowledge about the current status and outcomes of mitigation and adaptation efforts), while others would argue that actual guidance on future action is a necessary part of being responsive to the nation’s information needs. It would be helpful for the intent and the goals of the NCA to be clarified, regarding this balance between assessing knowledge and providing guidance.
Because the NCA must examine climate change impacts on such a diverse array of regions and sectors, as well as a diverse array of response efforts, this leads to a very broad mandate for the assessment—much broader than that of many other high-profile assessments (e.g., the UNEP Stratospheric Ozone Assessment). The breadth of what must be done and the lack of clearly articulated needs by some decision makers create a very challenging task for the NCA authors. Given this, inevitably some parts of the NCA draft report are stronger than others. This review does raise a variety of concerns about, and suggestions for improving, specific parts of the draft NCA report. But these detailed suggestions should not cloud the Panel’s overall assessment—that the NCA draft is a useful synthesis of a large body of knowledge, much of which did not exist when the Global Change Research Act was enacted. As the nation continues to engage with the threats, opportunities, and surprises of climate change in its many manifestations, the 2013 NCA provides a valuable summary of the state of knowledge about climate change and its implications for the American people.
Below are three particular areas where the Panel feels more attention is needed in order for the report to fully meet the GCRA mandate.
I A part of the GCRA mandate is to “integrate” the USGCRP’s research findings. The Panel suggests that this integrative effort would be enhanced if the report provided a clear overarching framework that helps people think about the complex problem of climate change within the broader context of global change. Although the current draft offers some framing concepts in later chapters of the report, this framing needs to be presented clearly from the outset to give the reader much-needed context for the sector- and region-specific information that follows. These framing concepts likewise need to be reinforced throughout the document, in part because many readers may only view a few select chapters. Building upon the ideas that are already touched upon in the NCA draft, this framing would include at least two important dimensions: