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Science Priorities for the Human Dimensions of Global Change
of knowledge about various kinds of human-environment interactions, the USGCRP agencies plan to increase significantly their support for research in areas relating to the human dimensions of global change. This report is addressed primarily to those U.S. government agencies. It begins a process by which advice from the relevant scientific communities can inform the agencies' decisions about research priorities that support the new policy priorities. We identify a few areas in which, in our judgment, focused incremental research efforts have the potential to yield significant increases in knowledge in the relatively near term that will contribute to the goal of improved integrated assessment. We also recommend a process for developing science plans and implementation plans for the future development of research in these areas.
The decision that research should serve the need for integrated assessment implies that a criterion of practicality will be applied in research policy decisions. This report applies that criterion to identifying the knowledge that decision makers need about the environmental and social processes that the society may wish to anticipate, influence, or adapt to.
Integrated assessment poses a major scientific challenge because it calls for the parallel and coordinated development of four kinds of research, only one of which has been a central focus of the U.S. program in the past.
Research on earth system processes has been the centerpiece of the USGCRP from its inception.
Research on ecological and socioeconomic impacts and effects of global environmental changes is a new emphasis of the program. Processes of human adaptation are central to research on impacts. The impacts that societies and their vulnerable subpopulations actually experience depend on the extent to which they can anticipate or adapt quickly to large or rapid environmental changes. Consequently, impacts research requires assessment of the vulnerability and of the robustness of social systems in the face of plausible large or rapid environmental changes. For example, the socioeconomic impact of a climate-induced drought will depend in part on the ability of social institutions to reallocate water supplies. Chapter 5 describes a recommended research focus on impact and vulnerability research; Chapter 2 and Chapter 6 recommend research foci that will develop needed knowledge on vulnerability and robustness.
Research on policy options for mitigation and adaptation and on their costs and benefits is another new and difficult area. In order to analyze costs, benefits, and policy implementation processes, policy analysts require projections of the social and economic conditions under which a policy will have its effects. For example, if population growth and increasing affluence result in increased strain on the world food production system in the future, climate changes that occur a generation from now might have