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Overview: The Need for the Best Available Science to Address Global Climate Change Issues
"The Earth's well-being is also an issue important to America. And it's an issue that should be important to every nation in every part of our world. The issue of climate change respects no border. Its effects cannot be reined in by an army nor advanced by any ideology. Climate change, with its potential to impact every corner of the world, is an issue that must be addressed by the world."
-- President Bush, June 11, 2001
Climate shapes the environment, natural resources, the economy, and other aspects of life in all countries of the world. Natural and human-induced changes in climate, as well as the options suggested for adapting to or slowing changes, may have substantial environmental, economic, and societal consequences. Decisionmakers, resource managers, and other interested citizens need reliable science-based information to make informed judgments regarding policy and actions. Figure 1 illustrates some of the range and complexity of the climate system elements that must be considered in addressing short- and long-term climate change issues.
In May 2001, the Administration asked the National Academy of Sciences -- National Research Council (NRC) to provide an updated evaluation of key questions about climate change science. Upon receipt of the NRC's report in June 2001, the President directed the relevant agencies and departments of the federal government to build on the extensive U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) to accelerate research on the most important uncertainties in climate science, enhance climate observation systems, and improve information available to decisionmakers. To accomplish this, the Administration took several steps:
Vision and Goals
Research and observations can play unique roles in helping society to deal with key climate change issues. This gives rise to the guiding vision of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.
Five principal goals have been adopted to guide the CCSP.
By developing information with the aim of achieving these goals, the program will ensure that it addresses the most important climate-related issues. For each of the goals, the CCSP will prepare science-based information resources that support policy discussions and decisionmaking.
While the CCSP Strategic Plan includes a decade-long strategy, it also establishes priorities for the near term consistent with the President's Climate Change Research Initiative. The program prioritizes three broad sets of scientific uncertainties: atmospheric distributions and effects of aerosols; climate feedbacks and sensitivity, initially focusing on polar feedbacks; and carbon sources and sinks, focusing particularly on North America.
The CCSP will also focus on climate observing systems, including efforts to document historical records, improve observations for use in climate models, enhance ecological observing systems, and improve data and information system architectures.
Development of state-of-the-art climate modeling that will improve understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change is also a CCSP priority. These models will be key assets in helping policymakers, planners, and resource managers address climate change issues.
CCSP Principal Products
The CCSP plan calls for the creation of a series of more than 20 synthesis and assessment reports during the next 4 years. These reports respond to the CCSP highest priority research, observation, and decision support needs.
In addition to the scheduled integrated reports, the CCSP agencies will continue to sponsor a large number of research projects and observation programs each year. The products of these activities -- a wide array of peer-reviewed scientific publications and major observation records -- are a major continuing legacy of the CCSP.
Development of the Strategic Plan
This Vision Document provides an overview of the CCSP's long-term Strategic Plan to guide the research effort. The Vision Document focuses primarily on the goals, products, and approaches of the CCSP. The Strategic Plan, spanning more than 300-pages, will guide the coordinated efforts of the 13 agencies participating in the CCSP. The Strategic Plan provides more detailed information on the scientific questions and objectives addressed by the program, as well as additional information on the current state of knowledge. The table of contents of the Strategic Plan is reproduced as Appendix A.
The Strategic Plan responds to the President's direction that climate change research activities be accelerated to provide the best possible scientific information needed for climate-related decisions. The plan reflects a commitment to high-quality science, which requires openness to review and critique by the wider scientific and stakeholder communities. The process by which the plan was drafted incorporates the transparency essential for scientific credibility. The program received extensive comments and suggestions during its Climate Science Workshop in December 2002 attended by more than 1,300 scientists and other participants, including individuals from 47 states and 36 nations. In the weeks following the workshop, the CCSP also received 270 sets of written public comments, involving nearly 900 pages of text. In addition, the CCSP requested and received a detailed evaluation (released in February 2003) from a special committee of the National Research Council. The NRC will provide a second public report in late 2003, expressing the committee's conclusions and recommendations on the content, objectivity, quality, and comprehensiveness of the updated Strategic Plan, on the open process used to produce it, and on the proposed process for developing subsequent findings to be reported by the CCSP.