The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a collection of 13 Federal departments and agencies1 charged by law (the Global Change Research Act [GCRA] of 1990) to assist the Nation and the world to “understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global environmental change.” As the understanding of global change has evolved over the past decades, and as demand for scientific information on global change has increased from both the public and private spheres, the Program has increasingly focused on use-inspired research that can inform decisions to cope with current global environmental change—in particular to understand climate variability and change, to reduce the magnitude of future changes, and to prepare for changes projected over coming decades.
In light of the challenges faced by USGCRP to produce actionable scientific knowledge and better serve the needs of the nation, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee to Advise the U.S. Global Change Research Program has written this report. The goals of the report are to explain why it is necessary to identify potential new partners to participate (or current partners to more fully participate) in USGCRP activities, to explore the current set of USGCRP capabilities in light of this rationale, and to identify examples of gaps and areas of potential adjustments (a more detailed Statement of Task for this report can be found in Appendix A).
The federal government funds and conducts research aimed at building global change science that supports a broad range of decisions to manage the risks and opportunities that global change presents to the nation. The USGCRP has set forth an ambitious path toward meeting the nation’s needs for global change information in its 2012 Strategic Plan. However, it has become clear that the current group of member agencies is not adequate for addressing the breadth of the challenges that the United States faces, as described in the plan. Working with additional partners is a useful way for USGCRP to achieve its mandate. In some cases, other federal agencies and non-federal entities are conducting important research that could be brought to bear on global change science. In other cases, USGCRP research could be better connected with efforts to inform decisions that are affected by global change.
Additional partnerships are needed to address all of the goals and objectives described in the Program’s evolving Strategic Plan. The advantages of such partnerships will have to be balanced against the costs to the partners, both in forming and continuing a partnership and in the potential for diversion of agency resources to national goals tangential to the current understanding of agency responsibilities. The process of determining potential partners will need to evolve with time, but the Committee has
1 For simplicity, the term ”agencies” is used from here on.
identified a number of current examples that highlight opportunities where enhanced participation could benefit the nation.
Drawing upon past and ongoing examination of the USGCRP, the Committee reached four broad conclusions, which are illustrated with the case studies highlighted throughout the report:
- Conclusion 1: USGCRP needs broader partnerships and participation from within existing member agencies and from new entities to achieve its goals.
- Conclusion 2: USGCRP could most effectively achieve its goals by embracing a variety of approaches to partnership.
- Conclusion 3: The Interagency Working Groups are one particularly useful approach that could be more fully exploited as a means to promote ongoing collaboration around specific areas of interest and to create networks of partners.
- Conclusion 4: USGCRP would more fully meet its mandate by taking the lead in arguing for increased participation by other agencies—including formal membership—when the benefits to the nation outweigh the costs of collaboration to the agencies.
The Committee has found that there are opportunities for enhanced participation in support of all four goals of USGCRP’s 2012 Strategic Plan—(1) Advance Science, (2) Inform Decisions, (3) Conduct Sustained Assessments, and (4) Communicate and Educate. This report provides several concrete examples of mechanisms and levels of participation that can serve as useful models for enhancing collaboration across the family of U.S. agencies and with non-Federal partners. In order to achieve the ambitious goals of the Strategic Plan, the USGCRP will need to employ new and existing mechanisms that will enhance participation in the Program and ultimately provide greater societal benefit from the conduct of global change science.