Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change
NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
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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 sponsor.
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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.
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AMERICA’S CLIMATE CHOICES: PANEL ON INFORMING EFFECTIVE DECISIONS AND ACTIONS RELATED TO CLIMATE CHANGE
DIANA LIVERMAN (Co-Chair),
University of Arizona, Tucson and Oxford University, United Kingdom.
PETER RAVEN (Co-Chair),
Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis
Challenger Center for Space Science Education, Alexandria, Virginia
ROSINA M. BIERBAUM,
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
DANIEL W. BROMLEY,
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut
ROBERT J. LEMPERT,
The RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California
Department of Housing and Urban Development
EDWARD L. MILES,
University of Washington, Seattle
BERRIEN MOORE, III,
Climate Central, Princeton, New Jersey
MARK D. NEWTON,
Dell, Inc., Round Rock, Texas
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton, New Jersey
Electric Power Research Institute, Inc., Washington, D.C.
DOUGLAS P. SCOTT,
Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Springfield
KATHLEEN J. TIERNEY,
University of Colorado at Boulder
The Carbon Trust LLC, New York, New York
SHARI T. WILSON,
Maryland Department of the Environment, Baltimore
MARTHA McCONNELL, Study Director
LAUREN M. BROWN, Research Associate
RICARDO PAYNE, Program Assistant
DAVID REIDMILLER, Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Fellow
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. The panel’s 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 limiting climate change.
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. The panel’s report focuses on the scientific advances needed both to improve our understanding of the intergrated-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. This report describes the different types of climate change-related decisions and actions being taken at various levels and in different sectors and regions; and 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 involve 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 inluded input from and interactions with members of all five study groups; the membership of each group is listed in Appendix E.
How can America make more informed decisions about climate change? This was the question asked of the Panel on Informing Effective Decisions and Actions Related to Climate Change. We were challenged to identify the opportunities and challenges associated with informing effective decisions and actions, including the different activities, products, strategies, and tools for informing decision makers about climate change and helping them plan and execute effective, integrated responses. We were asked to describe the different types of climate change-related decisions and actions being taken at various levels and in different sectors and regions and to review frameworks and tools for ensuring that the best available technical knowledge about climate change is used to inform these decisions and actions.
Our first challenge was to decide how to set the limits of our panel report given the broad statement of task, the limited time, and the potential for overlap with the work of the three other America’s Climate Choices panels. We also took into account input received during the public discussion of the study, especially suggestions about the significance of looking at decision makers beyond the Federal government and about the importance of communication and education. We soon recognized that an informed and effective national response to climate change requires that the widest possible range of decisions makers—public and private, national and local—have access to up-to-date and reliable information about current and future climate change, the impacts of such changes, the vulnerability to these changes, and the response strategies for reducing emissions and implementing adaptation. We also acknowledged the importance of information that is needed to assess whether the decisions or responses are successful or should be revised.
We began our work with reflections about America’s ability to face grand and complex challenges in the past, where a record of success and learning from experience provided us with an optimistic start to thinking about informing climate choices. We then examined the decisions and actions that have already been taken in relation to climate, who was making the decisions, and what tools and information they were using or lacking. Responding to our task statement we then turned to an assessment of frameworks and tools for making climate-related decisions and identified two key types of information services that are needed in making decisions about climate change: (1) information about climate, climate impacts, and adaptation, and (2) information about greenhouse gas emissions and their management. We recognized that
America needs good international information for effective decisions and can play an important role in maintaining international observational and research activities. Finally we decided to assess what is known about public understanding of climate and the ways in which climate knowledge is communicated and incorporated in formal and informal education systems. We tried as much as possible to maintain a “user” perspective: Is the right information available and accessible for the different types of decisions that people are making? Where is there potential for confusion? How can information services be designed so as to allow monitoring and assessment of climate and climate policy so that we can understand what is happening, evaluate the effectiveness of policies, and make adjustments to increase the effectiveness of decisions?
We were fortunate that our panel included representatives from many different groups, including federal, state, and local government, universities, the private sector, physical and social scientists, and several individuals who have long experience of decision making about climate in a variety of different roles, including international and non-governmental organizations. We believe that this diverse panel reflects the range of actors involved in decision making about climate, but we also invited several people to meet with the panel to share their insights and answer our questions. We are grateful to these speakers: Eric Barron, Mary Nicholls, Ted Nordhaus, Jeff Seabright, Alex Perera, Amanda Staudt, Mark Way, Andrew Castaldi, Michael Liffmann, Brad Udall, Louie Tupas, and Chet Koblinsky. We also relied on a number of previous National Research Council reports that focused on decision making about climate and many of our findings and recommendations echo, reemphasize, and build on those of previous panels and committees. Several members of other panels and the main committee were helpful in defining areas of overlap and providing information in their areas of expertise, especially Kathy Jacobs, Jim Geringer, and Tom Karl. We are especially grateful to Adam Bumpus for his assistance with Chapters 2 and 6.
The study was conducted during a period when climate issues and climate policy were being debated and developed at all levels of government, and our time frame for the report included pivotal negotiations at the international level in Copenhagen, several climate-related bills in Congress, proposals for new approaches to climate services in Federal agencies, state actions to limit emissions and set up greenhouse gas trading, swings in public support for climate policy, and some major private sector actors moving to incorporate climate risks into their investments and decisions. This posed challenges for the panel, as it sometimes seemed as though the world was racing ahead of our cautious deliberations. This is one reason why we have avoided, for the most part, focusing on specific recommendations, and have chosen to emphasize the frameworks, information, and criteria that can be used to inform and evaluate decisions, whatever those decisions may be.
We extend our gratitude to the staff at the National Research Council. We are especially grateful to our study director, Martha McConnell, who was able to maintain a positive attitude and enthusiasm in spite of our time limitations, the challenges in bounding our task and in liaising with other panels, and coordinating a large committee of talented but very busy members. Martha was assisted in all aspects of her work by Lauren Brown. David Reidmiller, Joe Casola, Paul Stern, and Michael Craghan also assisted at times during the study process. We also want to acknowledge the director of the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Chris Elfring, who engaged often with our panel to provide advice and coordination with other panels.
Diana Liverman (Co-Chair)
Peter Raven (Co-Chair)
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 National Research Council’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:
CHRIS WEST, UK Climate Impacts of Programme, Oxford
ROSS ANDERSON, High Roads for Human Rights, Salt Lake City, Utah
NED FARQUHAR, Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land and Minerals Management, Washington, D.C.
CHARLES O. HOLLIDAY JR., Bank of America, Washington, D.C.
KIRSTEN DOW, University of South Carolina, Columbia
KAI LEE, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Los Altos, California
PETER GOLDMARK, Environmental Defense Fund, New York, New York
BONNIE VAN DORN, Association of Science-Technology Centers, Washington, D.C.
MICHELE BETSILL, Colorado State University, Fort Collins
F. STUART CHAPIN III, University of Alaska, Fairbanks
STEPHEN SCHNEIDER, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California
CHARLES REDMAN, Arizona State University, Tempe
ELTON SHERWIN, Ridgewood Capital, Palo Alto, California
HADI DOWLATABADI, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
CARLO C. JAEGER, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany
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 M. Granger Morgan, Carnegie Mellon University, and Robert A. 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
EDWARD DUNLEA, Senior Program Officer
LAURIE GELLER, Senior Program Officer
IAN KRAUCUNAS, Senior Program Officer
MARTHA McCONNELL, Program Officer
MAGGIE WALSER, Associate Program Officer
TOBY WARDEN, Associate Program Officer
JOE CASOLA, Post-Doctoral Researcher
RITA GASKINS, Administrative Coordinator