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).
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.