The draft Update to the Strategic Plan (USP) takes up the goals of the Strategic Plan in three sections: Goal 1, Goals 2-4, and international activities. The Committee observes that the grouping of Goals 2-4 is sensible, and that it points to a significant learning of the Program since 2012. What is being learned should be included in the Strategic Plan via the USP.
We see in the draft USP evidence of increasing tension between the need for answers to a broadening range of scientific questions and limited budgets and agency capabilities. Historically, the USGCRP was rooted in the physical sciences of climate dynamics. Advances along this line of science have generated new research questions and will no doubt continue to do so. These essential questions deserve attention and research funds. In particular, some of the observational and research initiatives of the Program have required long-term support, and it is a continuing challenge to balance long-term investments against emerging new demands.
Climate-related events, many of them anticipated by an increasingly sophisticated climate science, have brought additional scientific questions to the fore that have not previously been central to the USGCRP’s research portfolio and that also deserve attention and research funds. As evidenced in the draft USP, these include questions about the costs and benefits of various mitigation and adaptation options and how best to achieve their objectives; about the feasibility, costs, and benefits of options for climate intervention; about the multiple stresses a changing climate and other global changes put on ecological and socioeconomic systems; about ways to better inform decision making in the face of climate change and uncertainties about its specific future consequences; and about the processes of decision support and what makes some decision support tools and approaches more effective. These developments call for better engagement and integration of multiple additional branches of science into the USGCRP, particularly the social sciences. The need for answers to this broadening range of scientific questions is pressing against tight budgets and limited engagement of some of the relevant sciences within the research programs of most USGCRP agencies.
The draft USP deserves credit for identifying many increasingly pressing scientific needs and for proposing to address them. The Committee does note, however, that some of these needs have been identified in previous strategic planning documents, but the USGCRP budget has not reflected any major changes in emphasis. The budgetary trajectory of the USGCRP, with few and limited exceptions, is best described by the laws of inertia: Good intentions for change have gone largely unrealized. The increasing tension between the Program’s traditional research priorities and emerging scientific needs requires more explicit attention in the strategic planning process. Within a tight budget, tradeoffs will be required. We do not see the tough choices addressed in the draft USP.
The Committee also sees in the draft USP a growing and unresolved tension between the dual roles of the Program as it has evolved. One is its original, classical role as a coordinator of science programs on global change among the agencies. The other is
the growing responsibility of the USGCRP to assure that boundaries are spanned between the research community and a wide variety of user groups both within the federal government and beyond. To an important degree the Program is playing a role as a boundary organization itself, one that is attempting to provide actionable science, for example in the National Climate Assessment. The Program needs also to catalyze research on the processes that foster successful boundary spanning. It is not surprising that these tensions are unresolved—the institutional experiment is playing out in real time. But the USP needs to be clear that this is one of the challenges that the USGCRP faces as it matures, and as the Nation faces both increased climate impacts and more and more urgent decisions about adaptation, mitigation, and perhaps in time climate intervention.