The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) was established in February 2002 to coordinate climate and global change research conducted in the United States. Drawing on information from the U.S. Global Change Research Program of the previous decade, as well as from other sources, the CCSP developed a 10-year strategic plan to guide its activities. The CCSP requested that the National Academies review both a discussion draft of this strategic plan, released in November 2002, and a revised version, released in July 2003 (see Appendix B for statement of task). The revised strategic plan is reviewed in this report.
The Strategic Plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program articulates a guiding vision, is appropriately ambitious, and is broad in scope. It encompasses activities related to areas of long-standing importance, together with new or enhanced cross-disciplinary efforts. It appropriately plans for close integration with the complementary Climate Change Technology Program. The CCSP has responded constructively to the National Academies review and other community input in revising the strategic plan. In fact, the approaches taken by the CCSP to receive and respond to comments from a large and broad group of scientists and stakeholders, including a two-stage independent review of the plan, set a high standard for government research programs. As a result, the revised strategic plan is much improved over its November 2002 draft, and now includes the elements of a strategic management framework that could permit it to effectively guide research on climate and associated global changes over the next decades. Advancing science on all fronts identified by the program will be of vital importance to the nation.
Recommendation: The CCSP should implement the activities described in the strategic plan with urgency.
The revised strategic plan identifies a much broader scope of activities than has historically been supported under the auspices of the Global Change Research Program. To succeed, such an expansion in scope will require a concomitant expansion in funding. A fully informed assessment of whether adequate funding is available for the proposed program was not possible because the CCSP did not provide the committee with prospective budget information and because many of the objectives in the plan are too vaguely worded to determine what will constitute success. However, the present CCSP budget does not appear to be capable of supporting all of the activities in the strategic plan. While well-established program elements have a track record of funding, the newer or expanded areas in the strategic plan lack clear budget lines and agency homes, and are therefore likely to be under supported. The major expansion in climate modeling and the observing system that the plan calls for will also require an increase in funding above current levels. There is no evidence in the plan or elsewhere of a commitment to provide the necessary funds for these newer or expanded program elements. Whatever the budget allocations, the CCSP and participating agencies need to start making budget decisions and setting priorities to allow the program to meet the ambitious overarching goals of the plan.
Recommendation: The CCSP and its parent committees should (1) develop a clear budgetary process linking tasks to agency and program budgets; (2) secure the financial resources, for the present and the future, that will ensure the overall success of the plan; and (3) consider new approaches to funding that will enable new initiatives and the shifting of resources to respond to the nation’s evolving needs.
Significant hurdles face the CCSP and participating agencies as they implement the plan. First, meeting all program goals will require advances in previously underemphasized but societally relevant elements of the program. Second, a clearer strategic approach is needed to achieve the necessary expansion of observation systems and modeling capabilities. Third, the management structure proposed by the CCSP is very complex, will require significant interagency cooperation, and is essentially untested. Fourth, given the political sensitivities associated with climate and associated global change, special measures may be needed to ensure the scientific independence and credibility of the program and its products. Finally, the CCSP needs to evaluate the available capacity within the community to implement the plan, and address any capacity gaps that are revealed. The recommendations that follow identify ways to ensure effective implementation of the strategic plan.
ENSURING A BALANCED AND SOCIETALLY RELEVANT PROGRAM
The revised strategic plan addresses much of the critical science relevant to climate and associated global change in a strategic framework that places the research it proposes in the context of national needs. It includes five overarching goals (see Box ES-1) that are consistent with the vision, roughly balanced among the areas of emphasis for the program, and of appropriate scope needed to address climate and associated global change. The fourth and fifth goals, in particular, will be crucial in ensuring the societal relevance of the program, as they focus on understanding impacts on ecosystems and human systems as well as supporting decisions related to prevention and response options. The committee applauds this emphasis, but finds it will require significant new efforts in areas that are not presently well supported by the CCSP. The CCSP should accelerate efforts in previously underemphasized program elements, including ecosystems, the water cycle, human dimensions, economics, impacts, adaptation, and mitigation, by rapidly strengthening the science plans and institutional support for these areas.
The plan’s attention to research and decision support related to the regional and international aspects of climate and associated global change is particularly welcome. As these elements are implemented, the program will need to do a better job of identifying stakeholders and the types of decisions they need to make. The CCSP should provide the scientific knowledge and analyses needed to support national and international policy decisions, including those aimed at mitigating climate change, as well as local, state, and regional decisions. Correcting the plan’s continuing systematic weakness with regard to economic analyses will be critical, because such analysis is crucial for evaluating impacts and weighing possible response options. The purpose of the plan’s proposed synthesis and assessment products also must be clarified, because it is unclear whether they either will meet the 1990 Global Change Research Act requirement for impact assessments or will satisfy the program’s need to evaluate progress toward program goals or other management objectives. The CCSP should further develop its decision support activities, making sure to meet the needs of local, regional, national, and international decision makers. The synthesis and assessment products should be chosen to explicitly address the range of needs for decision makers and program management, as well as the broad scope specified in the Global Change Research Act.
OBSERVATIONS AND MODELING
The plan appropriately calls for major upgrades in global observing capabilities and for significant advances in climate modeling. It falls short, however, in providing a strategy for implementing, sustaining, and evolving an observing system necessary to answer the crucial questions pertaining to climate and associated global changes that will be asked of it over this century. Such a strategy for observations should be well coordinated with related international efforts for maximum effectiveness. A strategy is also needed for meeting the stated modeling goals, particularly for delivering a wide range of products, including long-term climate projections, seasonal to interannual climate predictions, regional climate models, and projections of societal and ecosystem impacts. The CCSP should develop more comprehensive strategies for implementing and sustaining a global Earth observing system and for meeting climate modeling goals.
BOX ES-1 Overarching CCSP Goals in the Revised Strategic Plan
CCSP Goal 1: Improve knowledge of the Earth’s past and present climate and environment, including its natural variability, and improve understanding of the causes of observed variability and change.
CCSP Goal 2: Improve quantification of the forces bringing about changes in the Earth’s climate and related systems.
CCSP Goal 3: Reduce uncertainty in projections of how the Earth’s climate and related systems may change in the future.
CCSP Goal 4: Understand the sensitivity and adaptability of different natural and managed ecosystems and human systems to climate and related global changes.
CCSP Goal 5: Explore the uses and identify the limits of evolving knowledge to manage risks and opportunity related to climate variability and change
EFFECTIVELY MANAGING THE PROGRAM
The new management structure described in the strategic plan is designed to integrate the activities of 13 federal agencies, oversee progress toward implementing the strategic plan, and integrate research, technology development, and decision support activities. This structure engages high-level officials who could ensure that the program has the necessary resources and could monitor progress toward program goals. The management structure also provides an explicit linkage between climate change science and climate change technology, an important, heretofore under addressed component of the program. As the CCSP matures, continual attention should be paid to clarifying strategic plan priorities derived from the plan vision, mission, and goals; applying priorities and criteria in the program selection and budgeting process of the participating agencies; and defining measurements (metrics) that can indicate success in achieving goals. The CCSP should establish and institutionalize effective management processes that create accountability for meeting program goals.
The complex management structure proposed by the CCSP is essentially untested, however, and thus needs to remain flexible and open to adjustments as program leaders learn from experience. As the strategic plan is implemented, the CCSP leadership should adopt an adaptive management approach for the program as a whole by carefully monitoring its progress and periodically revisiting and adjusting the plan, its timelines, and its deliverables to address any shortcomings. Future strategic planning efforts should build upon the successes of this first one, particularly by maintaining the level of transparency and opportunities for scientist and stakeholder input in the process. The CCSP should plan for the generation of an updated strategic plan every three to five years.
MAINTAINING THE SCIENTIFIC CREDIBILITY OF THE PROGRAM
Involving high-level political leaders in CCSP management helps to provide the program with the resources that it requires, but also allows the possibility that the program’s priorities or scientific results could be influenced by political considerations. Either the reality or perception of such influences could serve to discredit the program unless independent evaluations of the program and its products are conducted on a regular basis. The CCSP should establish a mechanism for independent oversight of the program as a whole in order to maintain its long-term scientific credibility. This committee still believes (as in its first report) that establishing a standing advisory body charged with independent oversight of the entire program will be more effective than using a number of ad hoc external advisory mechanisms. Maintaining scientific credibility is especially important for the synthesis and assessment products designed to summarize and evaluate the implications of the program’s cumulative knowledge for scientific research and policy formation. The CCSP should ensure the credibility of synthesis and assessment products by producing them with independent oversight and review from the wider scientific and stakeholder communities throughout the process.
ADDRESSING CAPACITY NEEDS
The CCSP likely faces shortages in the human and institutional capacity needed to implement the strategic plan, especially in new and expanded program areas. Within the agencies, the capability and inclination to provide decision support—as opposed to basic scientific results—may be limited. In particular, preparing and reviewing the synthesis and assessment products may place high demands on the scientific community. The CCSP should carefully assess the needs in capacity implied by the strategic plan and address any gaps by coordinating ongoing capacity building efforts at participating agencies and initiating new programs as needed. Given the expanded attention to decision support, communication with stakeholders, and interagency coordination, the committee sees a much larger role and responsibility being placed on the CCSP Office. The CCSP Office should be appropriately resourced to reflect its expanded roles.
The nation and the global community will be better prepared to address the challenges of climate and associated global change if the CCSP’s vision and overarching goals are achieved. In this effort, the CCSP represents a transition from the science-based Global Change Research Program of the past decade to a program that employs science in the service of societal objectives. While many opportunities exist to improve the plan, as discussed in this report, the major challenge ahead is for vigorous implementation.