Advancing the Science of Climate Change
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under contract number DG133R08CQ0062. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring agency.
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Far left: courtesy of Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service. Photograph by Scott Bauer.
Middle left: Borden, K., and S. Cutter. 2008. Spatial patterns of natural hazards mortality in the United States. International Journal of Health Geographics 7 (1):64.
Middle right: Courtesy of DOE/NREL; Credit - Sandia National Laboratories.
Far right: Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce. Photograph by Commander John Bortniak, NOAA Corps, August 1991.
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THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the furtherance of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by the Congress in 1863, the Academy has a mandate that requires it to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964, under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, as a parallel organization of outstanding engineers. It is autonomous in its administration and in the selection of its members, sharing with the National Academy of Sciences the responsibility for advising the federal government. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors engineering programs aimed at meeting national needs, encourages education and research, and recognizes the superior achievements of engineers. Dr. Charles M. Vest is president of the National Academy of Engineering.
The Institute of Medicine was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education. Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg is president of the Institute of Medicine.
The National Research Council was organized by the National Academy of Sciences in 1916 to associate the broad community of science and technology with the Academy’s purposes of furthering knowledge and advising the federal government. Functioning in accordance with general policies determined by the Academy, the Council has become the principal operating agency of both the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering in providing services to the government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. The Council is administered jointly by both Academies and the Institute of Medicine. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone and Dr. Charles M. Vest are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the National Research Council.
AMERICA’S CLIMATE CHOICES: PANEL ON ADVANCING THE SCIENCE OF CLIMATE CHANGE
PAMELA A. MATSON (Chair),
Stanford University, California
THOMAS DIETZ (Vice Chair),
Michigan State University, East Lansing
University of Colorado at Boulder
ANTONIO J. BUSALACCHI, JR.,
University of Maryland, College Park
Carnegie Institution of Washington, Stanford, California
ROBERT W. CORELL,
H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics, and the Environment, Washington, D.C.
RUTH S. DEFRIES,
Columbia University, New York, New York
INEZ Y. FUNG,
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Santa Barbara
GEORGE M. HORNBERGER,
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee
MARIA CARMEN LEMOS,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
SUSANNE C. MOSER,
Susanne Moser Research & Consulting, Santa Cruz, California
RICHARD H. MOSS,
Joint Global Change Research Institute (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/University of Maryland), College Park, Maryland
EDWARD A. PARSON,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
A. R. RAVISHANKARA,
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colorado
RAYMOND W. SCHMITT,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts
B. L. TURNER, II,
Arizona State University, Tempe
WARREN M. WASHINGTON,
National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
JOHN P. WEYANT,
Stanford University, California
DAVID A. WHELAN,
The Boeing Company, Seal Beach, California
IAN KRAUCUNAS, Study Director
PAUL STERN, Director,
Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change
ART CHARO, Senior Program Officer,
Space Studies Board
MAGGIE WALSER, Associate Program Officer
KATHERINE WELLER, Research Associate
GYAMI SHRESTHA, Christine Mirzayan Science and Policy Fellow
ROB GREENWAY, Program Associate
Foreword: About America’s Climate Choices
Convened by the National Research Council in response to a request from Congress (P.L. 110-161), America’s Climate Choices is a suite of five coordinated activities designed to study the serious and sweeping issues associated with global climate change, including the science and technology challenges involved, and to provide advice on the most effective steps and most promising strategies that can be taken to respond.
The Committee on America’s Climate Choices is responsible for providing overall direction, coordination, and integration of the America’s Climate Choices suite of activities and ensuring that these activities provide well-supported, action-oriented, and useful advice to the nation. The committee convened a Summit on America’s Climate Choices on March 30–31, 2009, to help frame the study and provide an opportunity for high-level input on key issues. The committee is also charged with writing a final report that builds on four panel reports and other sources to answer the following four overarching questions:
What short-term actions can be taken to respond effectively to climate change?
What promising long-term strategies, investments, and opportunities could be pursued to respond to climate change?
What are the major scientific and technological advances needed to better understand and respond to climate change?
What are the major impediments (e.g., practical, institutional, economic, ethical, intergenerational, etc.) to responding effectively to climate change, and what can be done to overcome these impediments?
The Panel on Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change was charged to describe, analyze, and assess strategies for reducing the net future human influence on climate. This report focuses on actions to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions and other human drivers of climate change, such as changes in land use, but also considers the international dimensions of climate stabilization.
The Panel on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change was charged to describe, analyze, and assess actions and strategies to reduce vulnerability, increase adaptive
capacity, improve resiliency, and promote successful adaptation to climate change in different regions, sectors, systems, and populations. The panel’s report draws on a wide range of sources and case studies to identify lessons learned from past experiences, promising current approaches, and potential new directions.
The Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change was charged to provide a concise overview of past, present, and future climate change, including its causes and its impacts, and to recommend steps to advance our current understanding, including new observations, research programs, next-generation models, and the physical and human assets needed to support these and other activities. This report focuses on the scientific advances needed both to improve our understanding of the integrated human-climate system and to devise more effective responses to climate change.
The Panel on Informing Effective Decisions and Actions Related to Climate Change was charged to describe and assess different activities, products, strategies, and tools for informing decision makers about climate change and helping them plan and execute effective, integrated responses. The panel’s report describes the different types of climate change-related decisions and actions being taken at various levels and in different sectors and regions; it develops a framework, tools, and practical advice for ensuring that the best available technical knowledge about climate change is used to inform these decisions and actions.
America’s Climate Choices builds on an extensive foundation of previous and ongoing work, including National Research Council reports, assessments from other national and international organizations, the current scientific literature, climate action plans by various entities, and other sources. More than a dozen boards and standing committees of the National Research Council were involved in developing the study, and many additional groups and individuals provided additional input during the study process. Outside viewpoints were also obtained via public events and workshops (including the Summit), invited presentations at committee and panel meetings, and comments received through the study website, http://americasclimatechoices.org.
Collectively, the America’s Climate Choices suite of activities involves more than 90 volunteers from a range of communities including academia, various levels of government, business and industry, other nongovernmental organizations, and the international community. Responsibility for the final content of each report rests solely with the authoring panel and the National Research Council. However, the development of each report included input from and interactions with members of all five study groups; the membership of each group is listed in Appendix A.
The Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change is one of four panels convened under the America’s Climate Choices suite of activities, which is collectively responsible for providing advice on the most effective steps and most promising strategies that the nation can take to respond to climate change (see Foreword). Our charge was to provide a concise overview of past, present, and future climate change, including its causes and its impacts, and to recommend steps to advance our current understanding of climate change and the effectiveness of responses to it (see Appendix B).
The panel’s first challenge was to decide how to summarize the large volume of excellent peer-reviewed research by the national and international community to produce a concise overview of what is known. We recognize that this report is not brief; we decided that comprehensiveness was essential to the report’s credibility. In addition to drawing on the new scientific results being published nearly every week, we were aided in this task by the final U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) Synthesis and Assessment Product Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (USGCRP, 2009a), the recent National Research Council (NRC) report Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change (NRC, 2009k), and the four volumes of the fourth assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007a-d). In keeping with the overarching goals of the America’s Climate Choices study, we focus on the scientific knowledge that we thought would be of greatest interest to decision makers facing crucial choices about how to respond to climate change. Likewise, in looking to the future, we emphasize the scientific advances that could help decision makers identify, evaluate, and implement effective actions to limit its magnitude and adapt to its impacts.
The body of science reviewed by the Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change makes a compelling case that climate change is occurring and suggests that it threatens not just the environment and ecosystems of the world but the well-being of people today and in future generations. Climate change is thus a sustainability challenge. We hope that, for those who are skeptical or uncertain about what the body of scientific evidence tells us, our report will be informative. The scientific process is never “closed”—new ideas are always part of scientific debate, and there is always more to be learned—but scientific understanding does advance over time as some ideas are supported by multiple lines of evidence while others prove inconsistent with the data
or basic principles. Our understanding of climate change and its causes and consequences have advanced in this way.
The panel also examined the adequacy of the science base needed to improve the effectiveness of actions taken to limit the magnitude of future climate change and adapt to its inevitable impacts. Decision makers in the federal government, state governments, tribes, corporations, municipalities, and nongovernmental organizations, as well as citizen decision makers, are beginning to act. Climate research over the past three decades, however, has been driven largely by a need to better understand rather than to explicitly respond to climate change. Until recently, there has been relatively little research focused on the development and implementation of climate-friendly energy sources or land use practices, socioeconomic and behavioral processes that affect responses, adaptation strategies, analytical approaches to evaluate trade-offs and unintended consequences of actions, policy mechanisms, and other response issues. To address the need for new kinds of knowledge, we recommend some significant changes to the nation’s climate change research enterprise.
Our report covers a great deal of scientific territory and has been accomplished over a relatively short time period. For this, we thank our tremendously dedicated panel members and remarkably talented NRC study director Ian Kraucunas. The report also benefitted from the insights and assistance of several members of our sister panels and the Committee on America’s Climate Choices; in particular, we thank Kris Ebi, George Eads, Bob Fri, Linda Mearns, and Susan Solomon. In addition, we thank Mike Behrenfeld, Bill Nordhaus, Michele Betsill, Peter Schultz, Chris Field, and others who contributed written materials or spoke at panel meetings. We also benefitted from many one-on-one discussions throughout the study process and from the comments and perspectives contributed through the America’s Climate Choices website.1
The report also would not have been possible without the dedication and contributions of the NRC staff. In addition to study director Ian Kraucunas, we thank Paul Stern, who provided many good ideas and written contributions throughout the study; Art Charo, who staffed the workshop on geoengineering held in June 2009; Maggie Walser, who assisted with the panel’s response to external review comments; Madeline Woodruff and Joe Casola, who contributed to several chapters; Katie Weller, who compiled the references for the report—a huge job; our science writers/editors Lisa Palmer and Yvonne Baskin; Rob Greenway, who provided logistical support; and Chris Elfring, who provided wise advice at several points in the process.
There is still much to learn about the physical phenomenon of global climate change and its social, economic, and ecological drivers and consequences. There is also a great deal to learn about how to respond effectively without creating serious unintended consequences and, where possible, creating multiple co-benefits. If the scientific progress of the past few decades is any indication, we can expect amazing progress, but only if there is adequate demand, support, and organization for the nation’s new era of climate change research.
Pamela Matson, Chair, and Thomas Dietz, Vice Chair
Panel on Advancing the Science of Climate Change
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the NRC’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We wish to thank the following individuals for their participation in their review of this report:
DOUG ARENT, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
DONALD F. BOESCH, University of Maryland
VIRGINIA BURKETT, U.S. Geological Survey
ROBERT DICKINSON, The University of Texas at Austin
DAVID GOLDSTON, Natural Resources Defense Council
DENNIS HARTMANN, University of Washington
JEANINE A. JONES, California Department of Water Resources
THOMAS R. KARL, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
ARTHUR LEE, ChevronTexaco Corporation, San Ramon
GERALD A. MEEHL, National Center for Atmospheric Research
JERRY M. MELILLO, Marine Biological Laboratory
WILLIAM D. NORDHAUS, Yale University
ARISTIDES A.N. PATRINOS, Synthetic Genomics, Inc.
ORTWIN RENN, Institute of Management and Technology
RICHARD RICHELS, Electric Power Research Institute, Inc.
THOMAS C. SCHELLING, University of Maryland
ROBERT H. SOCOLOW, Princeton University
AMANDA STAUDT, National Wildlife Federation
MICHAEL TOMAN, The World Bank
JOHN M. WALLACE, University of Washington
Although the reviewers listed above have provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the conclusions or recommendations nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Andrew Solow (Marine Policy Center) and Robert Frosch (Harvard
University). Appointed by the National Research Council, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
Institutional oversight for this project was provided by:
BOARD ON ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCES AND CLIMATE
ANTONIO J. BUSALACCHI, JR. (Chair), University of Maryland, College Park
ROSINA M. BIERBAUM, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
RICHARD CARBONE, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
WALTER F. DABBERDT, Vaisala, Inc., Boulder, Colorado
KIRSTIN DOW, University of South Carolina, Columbia
GREG S. FORBES, The Weather Channel, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia
ISAAC HELD, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton, New Jersey
ARTHUR LEE, Chevron Corporation, San Ramon, California
RAYMOND T. PIERREHUMBERT, University of Chicago, Illinois
KIMBERLY PRATHER, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
KIRK R. SMITH, University of California, Berkeley
JOHN T. SNOW, University of Oklahoma, Norman
THOMAS H. VONDER HAAR, Colorado State University/CIRA, Fort Collins
XUBIN ZENG, University of Arizona, Tucson
Ex Officio Members
GERALD A. MEEHL, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
CHRIS ELFRING, Director
LAURIE GELLER, Senior Program Officer
IAN KRAUCUNAS, Senior Program Officer
MARTHA MCCONNELL, Program Officer
MAGGIE WALSER, Associate Program Officer
TOBY WARDEN, Associate Program Officer
JOSEPH CASOLA, Postdoctoral Fellow
RITA GASKINS, Administrative Coordinator
KATIE WELLER, Research Associate
LAUREN M. BROWN, Research Assistant
ROB GREENWAY, Program Associate
SHELLY FREELAND, Senior Program Assistant
AMANDA PURCELL, Senior Program Assistant
JANEISE STURDIVANT, Program Assistant
RICARDO PAYNE, Program Assistant
SHUBHA BANSKOTA, Financial Associate