The Global Change Research Act (GCRA) mandates that a National Climate Assessment (NCA) be produced every four years, as a report to the President and the Congress. Carried out under the auspices of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), the NCA is an important effort to periodically inform the American people about the effects of climate change across U.S. regions and key sectors, to project major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years, to evaluate the current state of mitigation and adaptation activities, and to highlight key gaps in our knowledge. NCA reports were produced in 2000 and 2009; and a 2013 report is now in development. This document contains an evaluation of the draft 2013 report.
The National Research Council (NRC) has a long history of convening expert groups to provide independent advice and review for the USGCRP and its main program elements, including the NCA. A new committee to advise the USGCRP was convened in mid-2011, and from that committee a subsidiary panel was created with the specific charge of reviewing the draft 2013 NCA report. This panel is composed largely of members of the parent committee, but augmented in areas of key relevance to the NCA.
This Panel to Review the National Climate Assessment was specifically asked to consider the following questions:
1. Does the report meet the requirements of Section 106 of the GCRA1?
2. Is the report responsive to the nation’s needs for information on climate variability and change in a global change context, their potential implications, and the potential effects of different response options?
3. Are the key messages and graphics clear and appropriate from a communications perspective?
1 SEC.106. SCIENTIFIC ASSESSMENT: On a periodic basis (not less frequently than every 4 years), the Council, through the Committee, shall prepare and submit to the President and the Congress an assessment which
• integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program and discusses the scientific uncertainties associated with such findings;
• analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity; and
• analyzes current trends in global change, both human- induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.
4. Are there any critical content areas missing from the report?
5. Are the findings documented in a consistent, transparent and credible way?
6. Does the research needs chapter address the most important gaps in existing knowledge?
7. Does the sustained assessment chapter provide an appropriate path to support the development of a sustained assessment process within USGCRP that engages regional and sectoral communities of interest?
The Panel conducted this evaluation during the same 12-week period that the draft NCA report was undergoing public review. To carry out this work, the Panel members held one in-person meeting and had a variety of additional exchanges via email, webinar, and phone—to share and debate their views on the NCA report and develop consensus answers to the Task Statement questions. Given the very short time allowed for this review, the considerable length of the draft report, and the great breadth of topics covered, it was not feasible for each Panel member to carefully review the entire document. Rather, the Panel relied on the expertise of just a few members to provide the primary review of specific chapters. The Panel then considered the chapter-specific comments collectively, to help develop their evaluation of the report as a whole.
This document provides the Panel’s consensus responses to the Task Statement questions listed above. With a report as large and diverse as this one, the answers to these questions were naturally a complex mix of positive reactions for some parts of the report and less positive reactions for other parts. Appendix A of this document presents a large collection of comments and suggestions focused on specific chapters, statements, figures, etc.. Because the Panel did not have time to collectively discuss each of these individual comments, they are not presented as true consensus findings or recommendations.
The Panel focused primarily on offering practical suggestions that could feasibly be addressed in the short time that the NCA authors will have to revise the document. But this inevitably spills over into more broad-based considerations about the fundamental approaches used in certain parts of the draft report, about the way the NCA enterprise is framed and designed, and about the nature and scope of USGCRP research that underlies the NCA findings. Thus some suggestions will likely need to be viewed as longer-term advice that may be applied in future NCA assessments.
We wish to acknowledge the tremendous amount of work that has gone into the preparation of the NCA report, and likewise to acknowledge that this NCA has been a significantly more ambitious effort than previous National Climate Assessments, in terms of the scope of topics addressed and the breadth of outreach/engagement processes involved. We offer our congratulations to the NCA leadership and authoring teams for their accomplishments thus far, and our sincere hope that the suggestions offered herein will aid their efforts.