While the most prevalent group of users of climate data is the climate science research community itself, this chapter focuses on communities that utilize climate data but are not climate researchers themselves. These communities have an interest in accessing climate data either as an input to their own research, as is the case with the Impacts Adaptation and Vulnerability (IAV) research community, or to inform decision making at some level. These communities have expertise in a nonclimate domain with which climate interacts in some important way. For example, infrastructure decisions such as power plant siting involve literally billions of dollars and are potentially affected by climate in numerous ways including interactions with sea-level rise, cooling system requirements, and regional power demands. Beyond that, the United States, like all nations, has a strategic interest in better understanding potential consequences of climate change as they may affect ourselves and other nations, as well as international lands and seas.
The challenge is to make climate data, models, and numerical simulations available in forms that are useful to the multiple user communities for the next decade and beyond. The following significant user communities are highlighted below: infrastructure decision makers and the insurance sector, national security planners, public policy makers, climate-impacts researchers, and educators. Each of these communities has different needs for data and models and numerical simulations.
CLIMATE DATA USERS
Infrastructure Planning, Energy, and Energy Policy
Infrastructure decision makers need a variety of different forms of information that directly reflect the capital investment decision and its interface with climate. Those who are building harbor infrastructure require a different set of information from those who are designing the cooling systems for power plants. The variety of data needed for these decisions spans a range of temporal and spatial scales. For financial decisions, probabilistic information, or at least a clear representation of attendant uncertainty, is also needed.
Climate model outputs are important inputs to some long-term infrastructure decision making. Some port facilities planning and coastal zones management activities are cognizant of potential climate and sea-level changes. But the use of climate and sea-level information is heterogeneous, and there are major national and private investments being made without regard to the fact that much of their planned usage could occur with a very different climate or sea level.
Climate projections are also important to ongoing decisions regarding energy. For example, winter electric power demand and spring and annual hydropower production in the Pacific Northwest are related to both El Niño and the Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) through variations in winter climate (Voisin et al., 2006). The out-of-phase nature of electricity generation and demand between the Pacific Northwest and California, particularly in spring and summer, provides an opportunity for transfers of hydropower between the two. Forecasts of ENSO and PDO, then, can provide an economic benefit as well as a planning tool.
Insurance and Reinsurance
An important function of the insurance sector is to manage the risk of adverse, weather-related events. The sector insures owners of resources against the effects of events such as floods, hurricanes, and other severe storms. Systematic changes in the frequency and/or intensity of such events are of direct interest to the financial integrity of the sector. Many of the costs of climate change, particularly unanticipated climate change, could be reflected and concentrated in this sector of the economy.
The insurance sector is potentially affected by climate change in its role as a risk manager for economic agents. The sector has been aware that a changing climate could have important effects for years. The consideration is raised in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Second Assessment Report (IPCC, 1995). Insurers and reinsurance companies have taken note of the possible increasing trend in weather-related disasters. Munich Re, a reinsurer based in Germany, has indicated that this trend is associated with climate change and monitors the trend very closely.1 There is a controversy over whether or not the trend is significant globally; however, there is little dispute that the trend is apparent in data for the United States (Barthel and Neumayer, 2012).
1http://www.munichre.com/en/media_relations/company_news/2010/2010-11-08_company_news.aspx (accessed October 11, 2012).
Assessing the appropriate response to climate change requires assessment of potential impacts across a broad range of potentially insured assets and activities. The challenge to the sector is extremely broad. Many of the sectors that are anticipated to be affected by climate change purchase insurance products. In order to set insurance premiums appropriately, the sector needs to undertake assessments that are much like those of the IPCC, although the sector focuses on near-term rather than longterm climate change impacts. In principle, this means disentangling all of the different forces that affect the value of assets and activities over the period over which insurance applies. The problem of accurately assessing the risk of climate change for all of the insured sectors and assets is truly daunting.
It is not entirely clear to what extent the sector has the resources to accomplish that task, or to what extent the sector undertakes primary research as opposed to drawing on secondary work. Mills (2005) summarized as follows: “Although insurers first expressed concern about climate change more than three decades ago, fewer than one in a hundred appear to have seriously examined the business implications, and fewer still present their analyses in the open literature.” What is clear, however, is the fact that better assessment of climate is important to the health and performance of the insurance sector.
National and International Security
Those charged with protecting the national security of the United States must prepare for contingencies that strongly interact with climate. Some aspects of the national security mission are directly affected by climate and sea level, such as port and coastal facilities. Other elements are potentially indirectly affected by climate, such as unrest caused by disruptions in hydrologic and agricultural systems that can produce threats to U.S. interests. In a 2003 Pentagon report (Schwartz and Randall, 2003), the possibility of abrupt climate changes was considered with respect to potential destabilizing effects on the geopolitical environment that might lead to skirmishes, battles, and even war due to resource constraints—food shortages, decreased availability and quality of freshwater in key regions, more frequent floods and droughts, and disrupted access to energy supplies due to extensive extreme weather. Concern also exists for maintaining the integrity of military installations, resources, and training programs within the United States (e.g., the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program [SERDP]2).
2http://www.serdp.org/Program-Areas/Resource-Conservation-and-Climate-Change/Climate-Change (accessed October 11, 2012).
In the Quadrennial Defense Review Report (DOD, 2010), a strategic approach to climate and energy is clearly articulated. Climate is clearly seen as contributing to shaping the future security environment, and climate information is being used to produce strategies to cope with climate change both in the domestic and military installations as well as in strategically important locations throughout the world. Outputs from the most recent ensembles of climate change simulations (e.g., CMIP3) have been used. For example, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) recently provided results from the CMIP3 data set to help the Department of Defense (DOD) meet its requirements to assess the implications of climate change for its capabilities. The DOD also maintains a program jointly with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy that solicits proposals to provide research on how the military can adapt to climate change (through SERDP); through this program methods and climate products for adaptation purposes are developed.
Public Policy Makers
Public policy faces two challenges: determining interventions to control human actions that could affect climate (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions, land use, and aerosol emissions) and determining an appropriate response to present and potential future climate impacts. These needs require different types of information. In general, public policy makers will have less interest in access to primary data than to expert analysis, assessment, and interpretation. Major public policy decisions, such as the magnitude, pace, and timing of emissions mitigation, are generally made by nations, either individually or in concert. (Decisions about emissions mitigation are also made at state and local levels despite the fact that changes in these parties’ emissions may be too small to have a measurable effect on Earth’s planetary energy balance.) Emissions mitigation decisions require information about climate change, the ability of public policy decisions to affect climate change, and the relative costs and benefits at the local and global scales from alternative policy interventions. Evidently, the community needs information that has been aggregated, interpreted, and assessed. An authoritative interface between data, models, and users is important.
Those making public policy have a relatively well developed set of resources designed to produce and deliver information. The IPCC was developed by governments to assess what is known, not known, and uncertain with regard to climate change. This organization has produced four full assessments and a wide range of special reports. It is presently in the process of its fifth assessment. In addition, governments have turned to their own scientists to provide tailored assessment products. The National Research Council has played a major role in this regard in the United States. In addition, the
Global Change Research Act of 1990 commissioned a set of assessments of climate impacts, referred to as the National Climate Assessment (NCA), to be completed every 4 years. The NCA has produced two full assessments and a set of synthesis and assessment products. The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is in the process of producing a new product.3 These assessments in turn rely on climate information products. Both the IPCC and the U.S. government have access to the world’s climate scientists and therefore produce authoritative information about climate and climate systems.
In contrast, public policy decisions about how to adapt to climate change are taken by a wider set of actors ranging from international agencies to local communities. These decision makers need information on major climate variables and their projected variability, but unlike the research community, public policy decision makers need information that is actionable. While some decision makers may have sufficient expertise to employ primary data, many will not and will require a professional and trusted interface between data, models, and usable information.
Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability Community
This research community is referred to as the IAV community. The focus of IAV research is understanding the implications for human and natural systems of climate change. The IAV community has highly varied needs for climate data and models. At one end of the spectrum are global ecosystem researchers, who need information on global scales; their spatial and temporal resolution requirements vary from modeling team to modeling team. These modelers can look at both fine scales and long time horizons. At the other extreme are researchers who focus primarily on case studies in which a very specific place, for example, a village, is examined, usually over relatively short (decadal) time horizons, but with extremely fine spatial resolution. This research community can need information about major climate variables, for example, temperature and precipitation, but also about variation in these metrics. In some instances specific metrics, such as the last day of frost or annual number of days above 35°C, are desired. It is important to communicate the uncertainty that attends specific model and ensemble calculations to this user community (Chapter 6).
The highly heterogeneous nature of the IAV research community means that climate information employed by this community is also highly heterogeneous. For some, the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison and the Coupled Model In-
tercomparison Project (CMIP) are central resources. The most recent complete data set from this project, CMIP3, involved 16 international modeling groups from 11 countries, using 23 models and submitting 36 terabytes of model data (Meehl et al., 2007) (see Chapter 8 for more details). For other researchers relatively few climate research data products are used.
Much of the IAV research literature examines the question of how present society would respond to climate change. However, a growing body of research examines impacts and adaptation to climate change as it might be experienced in the future. The development of this literature requires not only climate data and model outputs, but also accompanying socioeconomic and ecosystem information that is consistent with the forcing used to generate prospective climate changes. For the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, climate models used socioeconomic scenarios taken from the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios, and IAV researchers were able to match these with associated prospective climate calculations. The IAV community found this useful, but it also found that the variety of underlying socioeconomic circumstances covered by these scenarios was not as rich as might be useful. For the IPCC Fifth Assessment, climate ensemble calculations were developed using four Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). RCP replications are being produced that will span a broader range of socioeconomic and ecosystem pathways. However, this raises the question of how to pair socioeconomic and ecosystem scenarios that were not actually used as the drivers for climate model experiments. There currently is an effort to generate shared socioeconomic pathways that are associated with the RCPs. This is indeed a complex enterprise, but a critical one for effectively exploring the diversity of possible socioeconomic futures.
Since the information needs regarding future climate are highly diverse within this community, it is difficult to summarize what the needs for improvement will be over the next 10-20 years. Some segments of the community, such as the traditional impacts community may desire high-resolution information on climate change, with robust measures of uncertainty. These needs will be addressed by the types of improvements in modeling, including higher resolution, discussed in Chapter 3. But other segments of the community, such as those more focused on a vulnerability perspective, may need more detailed information on the nature of human and ecosystem vulnerability, and the causes of vulnerability. Generally, more coordination and collaboration between the climate modeling community and the IAV community will help to improve the coproduction of knowledge on future climate.
The final user category discussed here is educators, who need information about climate that they can understand and in turn communicate to students and the general public. The first step in serving this community is the development of programs to educate the educators. Developing a general level of public understanding of climate and the forces which shape it, as well as the difference between weather and climate, is a long-term enterprise.
The rapid pace of change of climate science presents a particular challenge to the educational community. Textbooks may become outdated as new scientific findings become available. The NRC report Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (NRC, 2010d; Chapter 11) discusses at length the present state of education on climate change, education materials that are available, and the need to link education curricula to scientific advances. The previous NRC committee recommends several priority measures to which this committee also subscribes, including improved “national, state, and local climate education standards, climate curriculum development, teacher professional development, and production of supportive print and web materials.” They also recommend a “national strategy and supporting network to coordinate climate change education and communication activities for policy makers and the general public, including the identification of essential informational needs; development of relevant, timely, and effective information products and services; construction and integration of information dissemination and sharing networks; and continuous evaluation and feedback systems to establish which approaches work best in what circumstances” (NRC, 2010d).
As noted above, by the National Academies study America’s Climate Choices (NRC, 2010a,b,d,e, 2011a) and by the World Meteorological Organization’s Global Framework for Climate Services (WMO, 2012), climate data users employ varied data transformed into usable information either directly or by interface organizations.
Central to the development of user-specific climate information is the recognition that the needs of the user community are diverse and complex. Users of climate information and products can be categorized in many ways: users of global, regional and national products; users in different sectors; users in public policy and planning, and private sector; intermediate users developing products for end users; from wellorganized groups to individual users; and from well-informed users to laymen. At the same time it has to be recognized that “users” work on various spatial and temporal scales—from individual farmers, to town planners, to river basin managers, to national
planners and international development organizations—and have different needs from weeks and seasonal to decadal predictions and long-term projections. They work under various economic and environmental settings and with different financial motives. While there will be some common needs, the general requirements, perspectives and the way to interact with them will differ in each case (WMO, 2012, p. 33).
Finding 12.1: There is a wide variety of needs for climate information across the various user communities, being met with varied success and employing varied providers of climate services.
DELIVERING MORE USABLE INFORMATION TO THE USER COMMUNITY
The committee anticipates that America’s national policy makers will continue to have access to the best climate science and climate scientists in the world and that the function of providing information about the state of the science will continue to be performed by America’s leading scientists. Organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences will continue to provide the connectivity between evolving climate science and decision makers. National policy makers will also continue to have direct access to the leading climate scientists working at America’s universities and climate centers.
Other decision makers do not have access to nor do they need the services of America’s leading climate scientists. There is a growing demand for climate products for decision making by user communities other than national decision makers that are provided by others with highly varied skills and backgrounds. The problem faced by many users is not that they want to understand the frontiers of scientific understanding and its broad implications and attendant uncertainties (see Chapter 7), but rather that they need to be able to find and work with someone that has the knowledge of the present state of the science and an ability to access climate data, interpret it in the context of a specific user’s need, and to help that user to understand both the implications of those data and attendant uncertainties. The committee notes, for example, that the PACE (Post-docs Applying Climate Expertise) program is a step in the direction of filling this need.4
Enhancing the ability of climate data users to access the best available information is an important step in developing a national capability to make well-informed decisions in both the public and private sectors. While there are entities that facilitate the proper use and interpretation of climate model output (e.g., the Task Group on Scenarios for
Climate and Impact Assessment of the IPCC5), more detailed attention to groups of users is required. Overpeck et al. (2011) came to essentially the same conclusion. They state that two of the principal challenges facing the climate modeling community are ensuring that “the ever-expanding volumes of data are easily and freely available to enable new scientific research,” and “making sure that these data and the results that depend on them are useful to and understandable by a broad interdisciplinary audience.”
The committee recognizes that the transformation of climate data from model output to usable knowledge implies transformation and the creation of derivative data products. At each step, climate expertise will be required, including an understanding of what the data imply and the uncertainty associated with them. While the climate data may begin in a climate center’s repository, it may well ultimately be transformed into derived data on a university researcher’s desk or as actionable information in the private sector.
Finding 12.2: While there is a great deal of climate model output available, there is a growing need for more user-accessible information and tailoring of information to specific user needs.
The translation of climate model output into more helpful products for various user groups is already being performed within many public and private entities. This work involves such skills as understanding the strengths and weaknesses of different climate modeling approaches and model data sets for a specific problem or question, knowledge of different downscaling techniques and their appropriate uses, and the ability to communicate the limitations and uncertainties in climate model projections. Whether as part of a national climate service, or within more local government agencies, private firms, or consulting groups, this work needs to be done by qualified people to ensure that users receive the most accurate and appropriate information. The people currently doing this work come from a diversity of backgrounds such as weather modeling, engineering, statistics and environmental science. Currently, no standards exist for helping potential employers assess whether such people have the necessary skills in the appropriate use of climate model information to ensure that they can provide the most accurate and appropriate information to end users. This suggests an unmet need for training and accreditation programs in this area.
To develop the human capacity needed in the Framework, a review of the educational qualifications and on-job training requirements for climate specialists would have to be taken up. New skills in developing, producing, accessing, interpreting and analyzing
5http://www.ipcc.ch/activities/activities..html#tabs-4 (accessed October 11, 2012).
global and regional climate products, including downscaled projected climate change scenarios for assessing climate change impacts, would need to be developed at a much larger scale as the climate service provision is made operational in the countries. A number of CLIPS training workshops held across the world have helped to create local experience in climate and climate prediction to a certain degree.6 These capacities would have to be scaled up and complemented by incorporating foundational elements of climate forecasting and services into the basic curriculum of university programmes around the globe, and particularly in WMO Regional Training Centres (RTCs) (WMO, 2012, pp. 39-40).
As articulated below, the committee foresees a growing need for this activity of “climate interpretation” to continue to grow in the future and envisions a role for trained individuals to act as “climate interpreters” at the interface between climate researchers and climate data user communities. Another approach that is gaining momentum is to invite climate model users to participate in discussions of model development. Such an approach has been initiated at the National Center for Atmospheric Research through the Community Earth System Model Societal Dimensions Working Group7 and is viewed as an effective method among some climate applications communities (e.g., the Water Utility Climate Alliance8). Yet another successful approach has been the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA9) effort from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which started in the mid-1990s to better align climate research with user needs in the United States. Since then many universities and research institutions all over the continental United States, Alaska, and Hawaii have been awarded 5-year RISA awards to conduct research in close collaboration with stakeholders interested in assessing and adapting to climate change-related risks in areas such as fisheries, water, wildfire, agriculture, coastal restoration, and human health. In the United Kingdom, there is the UK Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP10), which coordinates and influences research into adapting to climate change, and provides tools for and shares information with stakeholders.
Finding 12.3: There is further need for climate interpreters to transform climate model output into usable information for a wide variety of decision makers.
6 Climate Information and Prediction Services.
THE WAY FORWARD
Overpeck et al. (2011) concluded:
A new paradigm that joins traditional climate research with research on climate adaptation, services, assessment, and applications will require strengthened funding for the development and analysis of climate models, as well as for the broader climate data enterprise. Increased support from the funding agencies is needed to enhance data access, manipulation, and modeling tools; improve climate system understanding; articulate model limitations; and ensure that the observations necessary to underpin it all are made. Otherwise, climate science will suffer, and the climate information needed by society—climate assessment, services, and adaptation capability—will not only fall short of its potential to reduce the vulnerability of human and natural systems to climate variability and change, but will also cause society to miss out on opportunities that will inevitably arise in the face of changing conditions.
The committee recognizes the growing need to improve the quality and usability of climate information available for decision making in the public and private sectors. The importance of good weather information is well established. Climate change raises the prospect for systematic changes in weather events. While precise predictions of changes in weather patterns are not yet available, the research recommended in this report could ensure that, with the passage of time, better information across an ever-wider set of statistics will become available. The heterogeneity of climate statistics coupled with an evolving state of the science argues for the need to develop trained professionals, with the capability to both access state-of-the-art data and model products.
The committee recommends the development of degree or certification programs in climate “interpretation.” A climate “interpretation” program would provide a postgraduate training about the workings of climate models, including what goes into a climate model simulation; the strengths and weaknesses of various modeling approaches; regional models and techniques for downscaling; sources of uncertainty in climate simulations; techniques for handling the increasingly large arrays of data coming out of climate simulations; statistical techniques of analysis; and how to obtain data and model outputs. Interpreters would also have the ability to communicate user needs to those generating the climate model information. To keep climate interpreters informed about the evolving state of climate science and climate modeling, there need to be continuing education opportunities for climate interpreters; these could be provided as short courses at major national meetings or a national climate forum (see Chapter 13). The committee also anticipates that the establishment of professional organizations to support these professionals would naturally foster two-way commu-
nications between climate scientists, climate translators, and users. The role of interpreter would be similar to that of “information broker” called for by Dilling and Lemos (2011) who would act as an intermediary between users and scientists. The development and training of these intermediaries is viewed as one key innovative mechanism that could foster the types of iterative interactions that would more readily lead to usable climate science.
The committee envisions that such programs would be provided by universities, with certification provided by a national organization that has a broad reach and is independent of any agency or modeling center, such as the American Meteorological Society or the American Geophysical Union. Graduates of such programs would be employed in diverse contexts, in local, state, and federal government; the private sector; boundary organizations within agencies, e.g., RISAs; and nongovernmental organizations. As discussed earlier (Chapter 9), the committee anticipates that the private sector may ultimately provide much of the services that transform data from climate models into useful products for a wide array of decision makers.
The committee expects that such programs would create professionals who could perform tasks that are being done in boundary organizations at the interface between climate science and decision makers. These individuals would have the ability to provide climate information to users in forms that meet specific user needs, and they will also be able to discuss with users their expectations on what data products are possible and meaningful. They would also have the knowledge to communicate user needs to climate modelers and to help climate modelers deliver more useful data products, better reflecting evolving user needs. This could evolve into a system of true coproduction of meaningful usable knowledge on future climate change from both climate scientists’ and users’ perspectives. As with any professional certification, standards of good practice would be established. Continuing education and recertification programs would ensure that professionals maintained their skills to then current standards.
The organized provision of climate information and “climate services” by the federal government has been discussed and recommended in previous reports as a strategy for making the results from climate modeling more accessible to users (NOAA Science Advisory Board, 2008, 2011; NRC, 2001a, 2009, 2010d). The committee discussed climate services but chose to not add yet further input to this debate. The training of climate interpreters is important, regardless of where in the chain of organizations needing or providing climate information they might sit. It is not envisioned as the sole solution to address all user needs for climate information, but rather a crucial step that benefits any social system for bridging the climate modeling and user communities.
As noted above, the committee does not envision that national policy makers would cease to utilize America’s top scientists for guidance in regarding climate science and its implications for America’s interests. The committee anticipates that that connection will remain as ever. Similarly, we anticipate that interdisciplinary research will continue to thrive. Joint research projects that foster the development of integrated Earth system models that incorporate the state of the science in multiple disciplines and explore the joint implications for both biogeophysical and human-Earth systems will not be affected. Similarly, direct communications between climate modelers and research users of climate data, such as those in the IAV community, will not be interrupted, although researchers needing access to knowledge about how to access and use existing data products would find this climate translator skill set potentially helpful. Regardless of whether the current communications pathways between national decision makers and collaborative researchers are deemed adequate or not, the growing demand for climate data products would benefit from trained certified professional climate translators who could help establish and maintain two-way communications between climate scientists and data product users.
Recommendation 12.1: To promote the effective application of climate models, the United States should develop climate interpretation certification and continuing education programs to train a cadre of climate interpreters who can facilitate the interpretation of climate model output into usable information for a variety of decision makers and communicate user needs to climate modelers.