As mandated by the Global Change Research Act (GCRA), the U.S. Global Change Research Program is currently producing a “National Climate Assessment” (NCA). The NCA is a report to inform the President, the Congress, and the American people about the current state of scientific knowledge regarding climate change effects on U.S. regions and key sectors, now and in the coming decades. This document contains an evaluation of the draft NCA report, presented through consensus responses to the Panel’s Task Statement questions (listed in the Introduction), and through a large collection of individual Panel member comments and suggestions for specific chapters, statements, figures, etc. (see Appendix A). While focusing primarily on practical suggestions for immediately improving the current draft, the Panel also raises some broader considerations about fundamental approaches used in certain parts of the NCA report, and about the scope of USGCRP research that underlies the NCA findings. Some suggestions can be viewed as longer-term advice for future versions of NCA work.
This NCA has been a significantly more ambitious effort than previous assessments, in terms of the scope of topics addressed and the breadth of public engagement processes involved. Some of the important new areas include the use of “traceable accounts,” the articulation of needs for future research and a vision for an ongoing assessment process, the outreach efforts to help various stakeholders define their climate-related information needs, and the initial (though incomplete) effort to assess the current state of climate change response activities around the nation. Given the current state of the science and the scope of resources available, we believe the NCA did a reasonable job of fulfilling its charge overall. Although more needs to be done to fully meet the nation’s needs for information and guidance, such needs cannot be met without an expanded research effort on the part of the USGCRP and future assessments.
The Panel suggests that the NCA report would be improved by addressing the numerous specific problems and concerns raised in the Appendix A comments and the more cross-cutting issues raised in the consensus answers to the Task Statement questions—which include, for instance, the need to:
• provide a clear overarching framework for the report that (i) helps readers understand climate change as part of a complex system with interacting physical, biological, and human social/economic dimensions, and (ii) offers practical guidance on using iterative risk management strategies to make decisions in the face of large uncertainties;
• clearly acknowledge how climate change affects and is affected by other types of major global environmental changes and other societal developments;
• offer an explicit discussion about the uncertainties associated with the regional model projections presented in the NCA draft;
• take full advantage of the e-book format planned for this document through strategic use of hyperlinks among different parts of the report and other innovative approaches that help guide the experience of the NCA’s diverse audiences.
As the nation continues to engage with the threats, opportunities, and surprises of climate change in its many manifestations, the 2013 NCA should prove to be a valuable resource, as a summary of the state of knowledge about climate change and its implications for the American people.