The U.S. government supports a large, diverse suite of activities that can be broadly characterized as “global change research.” Such research offers a wide array of benefits to the nation, in terms of protecting public health and safety, enhancing economic strength and competitiveness, and protecting the natural systems upon which life depends. The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which coordinates the efforts of numerous agencies and departments across the federal government, was officially established in 1990 through the U.S. Global Change Research Act (GCRA). In the subsequent years, the scope, structure, and priorities of the Program have evolved (for example, it was referred to as the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) for the years 2002-2008), but throughout, the Program has played an important role in shaping and coordinating our nation’s global change research enterprise. This research enterprise, in turn, has played a crucial role in advancing understanding of our changing global environment and the countless ways in which human society affects and is affected by such changes. Given the nation’s current fiscal challenges, it is ever more important that our global change research enterprise advances as a strategically-driven, coordinated whole, rather than a collection of ad hoc, unconnected efforts at different federal agencies. Thus the need for a strong USGCRP is greater than ever.
The National Research Council (NRC) has served as a key advisor to USGCRP planning efforts since the Program’s formation. Box 1 lists the previous NRC reports that have offered “whole program” advice to the USGCRP and CCSP (not including the numerous studies carried out during this time that focused on specific federal agency programs and activities).
Previous NRC “Whole-Program” Advice to the USGCRP / CCSP
• Research Strategies for the U.S. Global Change Research Program (1990)
• Global Environmental Change: Research Pathways for the Next Decade (1999)
• Planning Climate and Global Change Research: A Review of the Draft CCSP Strategic Plan (2003)
• Implementing Climate & Global Change Research: A Review of the Final CCSP Strategic Plan (2004)
• Thinking Strategically: The Appropriate Use of Metrics for the CCSP (2005)
• Evaluating Progress of the CCSP: Methods and Preliminary Results (2007)
• Analysis of Global Change Assessments: Lessons Learned (2007b)
• Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change (2009)
Studies that were not specifically designed as guidance to the USGCRP but that have become important references:
• Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate (2009)
• America’s Climate Choices (ACC): Synthesis Report (2011)
• ACC: Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change (2010)
• ACC: Advancing the Science of Climate Change (2010)
• ACC: Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (2010)
• ACC: Limiting the Magnitude of Future Climate Change (2010)
In mid-2011, a new NRC Committee to Advise the USGCRP was formed and charged to provide a centralized source of ongoing whole-program advice to the USGCRP. The first major task of this committee was to provide a review of the USGCRP draft Strategic Plan 2012-2021 (referred to herein as “the Plan”), which was made available for public comment on September 30, 2011. The Committee’s Statement of Task is shown in Appendix A. The Task Statement questions are addressed in the sections that follow, to varying degrees. Some aspects of the Committee’s charge proved to be challenging, because the Plan does not provide enough implementation details to allow us to fairly assess some of the questions asked.
This review was completed in a very short time (roughly eight weeks, concurrent with the public comment period for the Plan), which allowed the Committee to only touch upon numerous complex issues. Rather than providing section-by-section comments and line-by-line editing suggestions, the Committee felt it would be more valuable to focus instead on high-level concerns.
As part of its review, the Committee asked members of the NRC Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) and its Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change (CHDGC), both of which have had long-standing advisory roles with respect to the USGCRP, to examine the draft Plan and offer their input to the Committee orally or in writing1. We have drawn on this input in writing the review, and some comments (in particular, detailed editing suggestions) are presented in Appendix C. These members’ comments should be viewed as “supplemental” to the main committee’s review. We felt it was best to convey these additional comments in their entirety, even though in some cases they overlap with points raised by the main committee.
The draft Plan proposes a significant broadening of the Program’s scope from the form it took as the CCSP. As described in more detail later in this report, the Plan envisions a USGCRP that addresses not only climate change but also other climate-related (and human-caused) global changes. It also envisions a Program that would include a more broadly integrated system of observations; more fully integrate the social sciences; undertake scientific analyses related to mitigating and adapting to global changes; and pay greater attention to decision support,
1We thank, in particular, Anthony Janetos and Richard Moss, who served as liaisons with BASC and the CHDGC, respectively.
education, communication, and workforce development. All of these forms of broadening of the Program are entirely consistent with, and arguably are necessary for, achieving the purpose of the Program as set forth in the Global Change Research Act of 1990: to be “a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.”
The Committee thus feels that the USGCRP’s goals are generally evolving in the right direction. This Plan reflects the substantial effort that the USGCRP leadership made to seek out and incorporate the views of the broader scientific community and the many stakeholder groups that this community seeks to serve. However, while the stated goals are appropriate, the Plan does not always acknowledge the true challenges involved in meeting those goals or offer clear strategies for how to those challenges can actually be addressed. And in an era of increasingly constrained budget resources, those questions of how will become paramount.
As discussed later in this review, issues of key importance to the Committee are the need to identify initial steps the Program will take to actually achieve the proposed broadening of its scope, to develop critical science capacity that is now lacking, and to link the production of knowledge to its use; and the need to establish an overall governance structure that will allow the Program to move in the planned new directions.
The Committee offers its support to the USGCRP for its important planning efforts, and we hope that the suggestions raised in the following sections will further strengthen those efforts.