National Academies Press: OpenBook

A Review of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Draft Strategic Plan (2012)

Chapter: 2 Conveying the Importance and Value of Global Change Research

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Suggested Citation:"2 Conveying the Importance and Value of Global Change Research." National Research Council. 2012. A Review of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Draft Strategic Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13330.
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2

Conveying the Importance and Value of Global Change Research

The Strategic Plan discusses the value of global change research in many places in the document – e.g., in the description of individual goals and objectives, in textboxes, and elsewhere in the body of the text – but there is no single place within the document that attempts to lay out the case for why this research is so important to society. We suggest it would make the Strategic Plan more compelling to provide a focused description of the many accomplishments to which USGCRP research has contributed. Some examples may include:

•   improving the accuracy and lead times of seasonal climate forecasts,

•   quantifying the residence times of ozone depleting and greenhouse gases,

•   establishing that clouds and aerosols are the largest sources of uncertainty in modeling the response of the climate system to increasing greenhouse gases, and developing more realistic descriptions of their roles at the process level,

•   developing coupled Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Models that have successfully simulated the global temperature record for the 20th century,

•   demonstrating that changes in global mean temperatures over the past two centuries cannot be explained without anthropogenic greenhouse gas forcing,

•   establishing measurement methods and carrying out the first measurements of global tropical deforestation,

•   conducting the first experimental field tests of plant and entire ecosystem responses to enhanced concentrations of atmospheric CO2,

•   carrying out national assessments of climate change and its impacts,

•   developing emissions scenarios and climate projections for the 21st century, for use in international climate model intercomparison studies and in the IPCC assessment reports.

Numerous additional examples of the successes of global change research can be found in previous NRC reports (e.g., ACC Advancing the Science) and in the USGCRP’s own “Our Changing Planet” series. In general, the Plan could better articulate the fact that global change research has advanced our understanding of many processes that control the Earth system and the role that human activities have played in altering those processes. It could likewise describe how the Program has developed practical knowledge related to the interactions between natural and human induced changes in coastal environments, the hydrological cycle and water resources, agriculture, urban environments, public health, and land use.

By clearly highlighting such accomplishments, and indicating what accomplishments could only have been achieved by having a USGCRP structure in place, the Program can illustrate how it is helping the nation address issues of critical interest to a wide variety of stakeholders in both the public and private sectors. The Plan’s current discussion of such matters is too scattered and vague to make a strong impression. This dilution is particularly problematic in regards to research areas that are relatively new or are being given greater emphasis in the new Plan (e.g., integrated modeling, incorporation of the social sciences, the scientific basis for adaptation and mitigation).

Suggested Citation:"2 Conveying the Importance and Value of Global Change Research." National Research Council. 2012. A Review of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Draft Strategic Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13330.
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The Plan says that the decisions being made today about systems affected by global change are worth billions of dollars. This is both a drastic underestimate and an imprecise argument for establishing the importance of foundational research in adaptation and mitigation. The countless decisions that are being made – related to infrastructure, natural resource use, water management, agriculture, zoning, and development of our nation’s energy system – could easily account for trillions, rather than billions, of dollars in investment in the coming decades. These decisions have the potential to be made more effectively with better knowledge and foresight about future global change, about ways to reduce the inherent vulnerabilities of these systems, and about the ways in which adaptation or mitigation efforts could affect these systems. The Plan does not articulate these sorts of arguments clearly or with sufficient documentation.

Key Message: The Strategic Plan should offer a more coherent summary of past important accomplishments, including an assessment of successes that were possible only because of USGCRP actions, and a more explicit discussion about the potential value of future research.

Suggested Citation:"2 Conveying the Importance and Value of Global Change Research." National Research Council. 2012. A Review of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Draft Strategic Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13330.
×
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"2 Conveying the Importance and Value of Global Change Research." National Research Council. 2012. A Review of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Draft Strategic Plan. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13330.
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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.

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. A Review of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Strategic Plan addresses an array of suggestions for improving the Plan, ranging from relatively small edits to large questions about the Program's scope, goals, and capacity to meet those goals.

The draft Plan proposes a significant broadening of the Program's scope from the form it took as the CCSP. Outlined in this report, issues of key importance 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.

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