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Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031 (2021)

Chapter:2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems

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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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CHAPTER TWO

Global Change Risks to Human Systems

The framing of global change has shifted from focusing on changes in land, oceans, atmosphere, polar regions, the planet’s natural cycles, and deep Earth processes to understanding the risks created by interactions among the hazards created by these changes, the exposed regions and populations and their associated vulnerabilities, and the governance capacities to prepare for and manage changes in human and natural systems. “Natural systems” refers to the physical climate system and ecosystems (managed and natural). “Human systems” refers to systems managed by people to meet specific needs of society. This report focuses on a set of human systems that evolved to meet specific societal needs, including health, food, water, energy, transportation and infrastructure, the economy, and national security. These human systems interact with each other and with the physical climate system and ecosystems in complex ways through a series of drivers and feedback loops (see Figure 2.1). Risk is understood as “the potential for adverse consequences for human or ecological systems, recognizing the diversity of values and objectives associated with such systems1 (IPCC, 2019b, p. 696). A risk-management approach that is integrated would explicitly consider interactions across and among coupled human-natural systems, including benefits, trade-offs, and path dependencies.

The term “human security” was coined by the United Nations (UN) Development Program in 1994 as a conceptual framing to address multidimensional and complex soci-

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1IPCC (2019b, p. 696) continues as follows: “Relevant adverse consequences include those on lives, livelihoods, health and well-being, economic, social and cultural assets and investments, infrastructure, services (including ecosystem services), ecosystems and species. In the context of climate change impacts, risks result from dynamic interactions between climate-related hazards with the exposure and vulnerability of the affected human or ecological system to the hazards.”

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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FIGURE 2.1. Coupled human-natural systems are systems with interconnected, interdependent, and complex interactions among human systems, the physical climate system, and ecosystems. These interactions include the dynamics within one or more natural systems; the dynamics within one or more human systems; the processes through which the natural systems affect the human systems; and the processes through which the human systems affect the natural systems.

etal challenges, such as climate change. In 2012, the UN General Assembly affirmed the value of human security as an approach to identify and address widespread and crosscutting challenges to the survival, livelihood, and dignity of people.2 More recently, it was applied as an operational tool for implementing the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (e.g., UN Trust Fund for Human Security, 2016). This human-centric approach encourages broad participation that provides detailed insights into the varying challenges populations face within communities and regions,3 facilitating more targeted and community-driven solutions that address immediate vulnerabilities while building resilience and protecting livelihoods in the long term.

This chapter explores human security challenges through examples of global change societal risks to several human systems that will be important for the United States over the next decades. Throughout, the interdependence and interconnection of these risks, including through supply chains (across sectors), the particular vulnerabilities of frontline communities, and exposure to extreme events, are illuminated through a framework that calls for a greater coupling of the human and natural systems (see Fig-

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2 See https://www.un.org/humansecurity/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/What-is-Human-Security.pdf.

3 See, for example, https://www.un.org/humansecurity/climate-change.

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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ure 2.1). Only by understanding this coupling can the greatest risks of global changes in the coming decade be effectively managed to reduce, to the extent possible, threats to the security of human-natural systems.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP or “Program”) is well positioned to provide leadership in coordinating, integrating, and communicating research efforts across multiple sectors and agencies. The Program has taken promising steps recently to bring agencies together around three focal areas: water, coasts, and health. These efforts provide a foundation for the sort of integration that will be essential to addressing security risks and should be augmented with efforts to consider risks that cut across these focal areas, as well as the other risks identified here.

Throughout this chapter, the example of coastal communities is used to illustrate the ways in which the needs to understand risks are integrated across these human-natural systems (see Box 2.1 and other blue boxes throughout chapter). This is one of many possible examples and was selected to be illustrative rather than to imply that other integrated risks of are less concern.

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Also crucial is the coupling of risks across nations. The USGCRP focus is on the United States, but what matters to the country is not limited to the direct effect of global change within the United States—for example, what the nation itself experiences through temperature and precipitation change, storms, increased disease, etc. Risks of global change for the United States are influenced by global change effects on other countries, how those countries are able to respond to them, and how risks are transmitted from across U.S. borders. Research needs to be not just global but also international in scope. For example, given the importance of international markets, food security is unavoidably a multinational challenge. Also, international research cooperation by the United States appropriately includes collaboration with research programs in other nations as well as aid for those nations lacking the resources to meet similar needs of their own societies. Opportunities for such contributions emerge in existing programs of international cooperation, and in assistance to developing countries for such activities as the preparation of national adaptation plans (UN LEG, 2019). Increasingly, the science needed for risk management by the United States needs to draw on research from across the globe; analyses within U.S. borders will not suffice.

A strong crosscutting message emerging from the committee’s consideration of risk management was that risk management needs to focus on protecting the most vulnerable and reducing the underlying drivers of exposure and vulnerability, particularly inequities and exclusion. A variety of similarly interdependent and interconnected strategies are thus required to prepare for and manage these risks—for example, by direct risk reduction and increasing the resilience of these systems. These strategies need to be coordinated with and reinforce programs designed to directly address key vulnerabilities, such as tackling social injustices. These are discussed further in Chapter 4, but high-level, brief overviews of human-natural system security risks are provided here.

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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In its consideration of human-natural systems in the context of climate change, several USGCRP partners have explored the “nexus” framing approach, which is an integrative approach to systems planning and management that involves high complexity of scale, multiple stakeholders, and many processes. For example, the National Science Foundation developed a research program based on framing water, energy, and food as an interconnected system of systems in the face of climate change, as opposed to traditional silo-based resources planning and management approaches. A significant opportunity for USGCRP is to identify research issues that would benefit from understanding the interconnections and interdependencies involved in the complex and highly coupled systems and processes that affect society and the environment. Candidate examples of the nexus approach that integrate the climate system, ecosystems, and multiple human systems are briefly discussed in several of the sections in this chapter.

POPULATION HEALTH AND HEALTH SYSTEMS

Rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather and climate events, sea level rise, and other global environmental changes are associated with increases in the numbers of cases of climate-sensitive injuries, diseases, and death. The Fourth National Climate Assessment concluded that the health and well-being of Americans are already affected by climate change. Key health risks include increased morbidity and mortality from heat waves and other extreme weather and climate events, adverse effects from exposure to poor air quality (including ozone and aeroallergens), effects on the emergence and distribution of vector-borne and other water- and food-borne infectious diseases, and consequences of reductions in the nutrient density of food and from undernutrition. There is also increasing recognition of how climate change is stressing mental health and well-being. Health risks are projected to increase with additional climate change (IPCC, 2018).

People and communities are differentially exposed to hazards and disproportionately affected by climate-related health risks. Populations experiencing greater health risks include children, older adults, low-income communities, and some communities of color (USGCRP, 2018). Climate change is exacerbating existing health disparities from social, economic, and environmental factors. Furthermore, many public health laboratories, health care facilities, and other infrastructure are at risk of damage and disruptions in service delivery during extreme weather and climate events.

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

Infectious disease emergence is an ever-present risk in a rapidly changing and interconnected world with increasing trade and travel, climate change, underfunded health systems, and urbanization (GHSI, 2019; Morand and Walther, 2020; Semenza et al., 2016). The emergence of COVID-19 is a dramatic example of this risk. There are hundreds of novel coronaviruses (Allen et al., 2017). Close human-wildlife interactions are key to the emergence of novel viruses into human populations, and that interaction is increasingly driven by demographic and global environmental change (Daszak et al., 2001; Loh et al., 2015). Recent outbreaks with significant impacts on health and economic security included SARS (2002), H1N1 influenza (2009), MERS-CoV (2012), H7N9 influenza (2013), Ebola (2014), Zika (2015-2016), and cholera in Haiti (2010–2019). Modeling future burdens of infectious diseases, particularly for new pathogens, is challenging because of the complexity of pathogen transmission (Ebi et al., 2018). Future risks for vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue, and Lyme disease, could either increase or decrease with higher mean temperatures, depending on regional climate responses and disease ecology.

The health risks of a changing climate are current causes of preventable morbidity and mortality, which means health systems have policies and programs that could incorporate adaptation policies and programs to reduce the risks. Additional benefits to health arise from explicitly accounting for climate change risks in infrastructure planning and urban design (USGCRP, 2018).

FOOD

By 2030, the impacts of climate change, other global environmental changes, and socioeconomic changes are projected to adversely affect food availability in the U.S. (IPCC, 2019a; USGCRP, 2017). Drivers of adverse changes include altering temperature and rainfall patterns, the frequency and intensity of climate extremes such as high

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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temperatures and drought (see Section 4.1), and pest pressures. The magnitude and pattern of risks by mid-century will depend on the rate and severity of climate variability and change and on changes in trade, demographics, dietary preferences, and the extent to which effective mitigation and adaptation measures are implemented to address the growing challenges.

Risks to crop yields at 1.5°C above preindustrial temperatures could result in large transitions in land for food and feed crops and in pastureland, posing profound challenges for sustainable management of land for human settlements, food, livestock feed, fiber, bioenergy, carbon storage, biodiversity and other ecosystem services (IPCC, 2018). Risks at 1.5°C could be moderate to high for dryland water scarcity, soil erosion, vegetation loss, wildfire damage, tropical crop yield decline, and food supply instabilities (IPCC, 2019c). Increasing climate change also is expected to disrupt supply chains and negatively affect food production and prices, among other consequences. The extent of risk depends on socioeconomic choices as described in the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (see Chapter 4 and O’Neill et al., 2016). Choosing plausible assumptions about international trade, demographic change, and food preferences is particularly important for projections of food security.

In addition, increased atmospheric CO2 is reducing the nutritional quality of major cereal crops, including wheat and rice, reducing concentrations of protein, micronutrients, and B-vitamins (Loladze, 2014). At CO2 concentrations expected later in the century, global projections indicated there will be hundreds of millions more people at risk of food insecurity and micronutrient deficiencies (e.g., Beach et al., 2019; Zhu et al., 2018).

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Food crises are not just standalone problems; they also increase the risk of vector-borne and diarrheal diseases in children, put increased pressure on fragile terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, and increase human-wildlife interactions that can drive the emergence of novel infectious diseases. Extensive agricultural trade means that decreased crop yields in one region can impact other parts of the globe. Food crises and famine also can result from and lead to political instability, migration, and conflict. Inequities within and between nations exacerbate these crises, creating groups especially vulnerable to disruptions in or inadequacy of the food supply.

WATER

Water security can be described as the ability of a population to maintain a reliable supply of clean water to sustain livelihood, well-being, agriculture, and ecosystems while adequately managing floods and droughts (USGCRP, 2018). Recent climate change has affected people’s ability to sustainably access acceptable quality water during shortened or intensified rain seasons and their ability to protect themselves from water-related infectious diseases (Bakker, 2012; Thomas et al., 2013). Availability and access to water is becoming increasingly uncertain in regions as water stress is exacerbated by poor management of water resources and transboundary disputes. Water crises have already resulted in a lack of sanitation and increases in water-borne diseases,4 food insecurity, conflict, financial instabilities (see, e.g., Gleick and Iceland, 2018), infrastructure damage, and biodiversity loss (see, e.g., UNEP, 2013). Most of these consequences will worsen with climate change (USGCRP, 2018). In 2018, drought was the second most costly hazard in the United States, with the greatest damages to the agriculture and livestock industry (NOAA, 2020). At the same time that climate change presents new challenges to water access and flood management, development and population growth are increasing demand for and vulnerability of water supplies. A lack of fresh water, both from precipitation and melting snowpack, will affect water storage, agriculture, wildlife, public health, and other critical factors.

Climate change affects the natural hydrological cycle through greater evaporation, the ability of a warmer atmosphere to hold more water, changes in atmospheric dynamics, reductions in seasonal snow cover, and more. These changes can result in increases in risk of flood and drought, sometimes both in the same location. In some places, shortened rain seasons will increase water demand and strain management capabilities. Where water is in abundance, locations vulnerable to flooding can experience saltwater intrusion, pollution, or destruction to infrastructure (CNA Corporation, 2017).

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4 See https://www.unwater.org/water-facts/water-sanitation-and-hygiene.

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

At the same time, warmer water in streams and rivers can impact the metabolism, life cycle, and behavior of aquatic species, in addition to causing disease, species loss, and increased competition from warm-water and/or invasive species. In the United States, warming global surface temperatures will lead to longer and more severe drought periods in the Southwest and other regions, and reduce spring snowpack in the mountains of the West (UCS, 2014).

Lack of access to clean water and sanitation occurs in the United States and is a major worldwide issue (Gasteyer et al., 2016). In the United States, there are particularly high rates of disparities in water access and sensitivity to climate impacts in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is an example of this (see, e.g., Pauli, 2020 and Masten et al., 2016). In addition to water stress, other factors contributing to livelihood activities will be adversely affected. For example, water has been weaponized in situations of conflict to pursue security interests. Boko Haram has poisoned water sources, ISIS has controlled dams in water-scarce areas, and drug traffickers in Guatemala blocked parts of rivers for transport of contraband (CNA Corporation, 2017).

With each degree of warming, it is estimated that renewable water resources will decrease by about 20 percent for an additional 7 percent of the world population (IPCC, 2014). As water issues persist, they will negatively influence public health and drive economic, political, and social instability. And, as with other climate-driven risks, water insecurity is exacerbated by multiple dimensions of inequality.

ENERGY

The energy sector is undergoing rapid change including fuel switching from coal to natural gas, electrification of the vehicle sector, increased deployment of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency in most sectors, changes to the electric grid, and changes in response to the dynamics of international energy markets (NASEM, 2021a). In addition, the emergence of COVID-19 significantly altered expectations

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

regarding future trajectories of U.S. and global energy demand (IEA, 2021). Declines in energy use (both electricity and transportation fuels) due to changes in consumer behavior could have long-term impacts. Furthermore, the global economic shock induced by COVID-19 constrained opportunities for investment in the sector over the near term but also disrupted assumptions regarding the sustainability of some energy portfolios over the long term (Hepburn et al., 2020; Hosseini, 2020; Zhong et al., 2020). For example, the adverse economic impacts of the pandemic were largely borne by coal, oil, and natural gas producers and fossil fuel electricity generators (IEA, 2021). Meanwhile, demand for electricity from renewables increased.

The rapidly changing energy sector is already interacting with the changing climate to create opportunities and challenges. Extreme weather conditions represent the most common source of electricity outages in the United States, including severe winter storms, tropical storms and hurricanes, heatwaves, and wildfires (DOE, 2017). For example, flooding from Hurricane Harvey forced oil refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast to shut down temporarily in 2017. That same year, Hurricanes Maria and Irma caused catastrophic damage to the electricity grids of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (Campbell et al., 2017; Clarke et al., 2018). Recent catastrophic wildfires in California during 2017, 2018, and 2019 were attributed in part to extreme weather and electricity infrastructure failures. Such extreme events are projected to grow in intensity, frequency, and/or duration as the climate changes (USGCRP, 2017). In addition, extreme events interact with more chronic pressures such as sea level rise that have the potential to increase the risk of temporary or permanent inundation of coastal energy infrastructure (DOE, 2014; Government Accountability Office, 2014; Maloney and Preston, 2014).

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

TRANSPORTATION AND INFRASTRUCTURE

Protection of the built infrastructure (i.e., transportation, energy, water, wastewater, and communication systems) is critical to the continued security of the nation’s economy and social fabric. Of particular concern are the transportation networks—the roads, highways, bridges, ports and harbors, airports, rail, and pipelines that form a system of systems at local, regional, and national levels. Climate change, especially sea level rise and extreme weather events, will very likely have increased impacts on the country’s transportation systems.

Disruption of the transportation system, or parts thereof, can affect virtually all aspects of peoples’ lives—from access to and utilization of health care, to food and medicine distribution, to industrial supply chains, to emergency evacuation. Sea level rise places coastal transportation systems, as well as communities and businesses, at increased risk, while extreme events, such as floods and fires, can shut down the transportation systems in most areas of the country, sometimes for weeks or months. Often the most vulnerable segments of the population experience the greatest proportion of the impacts, exacerbating the risks they already face.

Development of effective policies and solutions for the threats of climate change to infrastructure is a complex task (NASEM, 2016c). Among the principal considerations are the interactions and interdependencies among transportation, energy, the built infrastructure, the economy, and other human systems. Uncertainty in climate science and the interactions of natural and human systems require a different approach to decision making (discussed further in Chapter 5). Additionally, there is a fundamental need for sound risk-based asset management to evaluate the vulnerability of a given system or subsystem, the likelihood of disruptive events, the consequence of the disruption, and the cost and means to reduce impacts. Situations will vary from high probability, low consequence events to low probability, high consequence events (DOT and FHWA, 2013). For example, what are the critical nodes, damage to which will result in major or cascading impacts, not only to the system itself but to interrelated physical and human systems, and in particular to vulnerable populations? Research is needed to identify more resilient materials and/or systems that can better withstand climate changes, including redundant systems and for critical nodes. Indeed, a basic requirement is determining a “sufficient” level of resilience for systems and subsystem components. The committee also notes that because a substantial part of infrastructure investment depends on local or regional resources, considerable and consequential inequities in ability to respond to these risks can arise.

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

ECONOMY

Human well-being ultimately depends on, among other things, access to basic human needs, such as food, water, housing, health care, and communities. Direct access to many of these essential components of economic security often requires not only that they be available (i.e., supplied), but also that those in need have the income or other resources necessary to purchase goods and services when provided by markets. This highlights the importance of economic security as an additional security concern.

Economic security is often defined as “the degree to which individuals are protected against hardship-causing economic losses” (Hacker et al., 2014, p. S7). When individuals experience income disruptions, they can suffer hardships or losses that have significant impacts on their well-being, often well beyond the associated financial losses (e.g., Helliwell et al., 2014). Moreover, those impacts can have ripple effects throughout communities and economies, as income losses within one group spill over to other groups. Economic insecurity has been generally rising since the 1980s (Hacker et al., 2014), but with some subgroups much more vulnerable, such as communities disadvantaged and/or marginalized because of race or ethnicity (Chetty et al., 2018; McIntosh et al., 2020). The recent COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how shocks can cascade when sectors, regions, and countries are closely interdependent through demand and supply, and when stay-at-home mandates fundamental for health protection significantly interrupt economic activity.

Climate change and associated extreme events can contribute to economic insecurity through supply disruptions at the production, distribution, or consumer levels. For example, increased frequency and severity of droughts and flooding create greater risk of crop losses, which threaten not only food availability but also the livelihoods of agricultural producers and workers. Likewise, extreme events such as hurricanes can create major income shocks to those directly affected (e.g., through losses of uninsured assets) and to those indirectly affected (e.g., through job or business losses [Bleemer and van der Klaauw, 2019]).

These losses can last for years after an event. For example, even 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, residents of New Orleans whose property was flooded had higher rates of insolvency and lower homeownership than their non-flooded neighbors (Bleemer and van der Klaauw, 2019). Hurricanes can also significantly affect migration, which can in turn have economic implications in both the origin and destination areas (Fan and Davlasheridze, 2018) and ultimately determine long-run economic impacts on affected individuals (Deryugina et al., 2018).

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY

By 2030, without the employment of rapid mitigation or carbon-removal strategies, climate change is projected to, directly and indirectly, affect the national security environment, its institutions, and infrastructure (IMCCS, 2020). Climate change is a diffuse threat that cannot be addressed by engaging with a single actor. The recognition of the crosscutting risks climate change presents to the intelligence and military community elucidates how a new national security paradigm—of which climate change is a bedrock component—is evolving (Werrell and Femia, 2019). The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic offer an example of how a nonmilitary threat like infectious disease emergence, which is affected by climatic conditions (WHO, 2003), can cause global social disruption, insecurity, and recession (Klarevas and Clarke, 2020). Similarly, emerging studies on how environmental destruction and disruption, worsened by climate change, can contribute to recognized security threats, has widened the security challenge (Coats, 2019).

Climate change is also a threat multiplier that can negatively influence existing risks to U.S. and global security (CNA Corporation, 2007). The intensification of water scarcity, temperature rise, precipitation inundation, wildfires, and other climate-related events can further aggravate emerging state instability and failure, interstate tension, conflict, military intervention, and other high-order security risks if not addressed (Guy et al., 2020). A changing environment can destabilize a region and influence local resource competition, land degradation, food and water availability, livelihood instability, and more by altering global human activities. Citizen dissatisfaction, mismanagement of resources, government destabilization, and violence are then compounded by climate change’s regional impacts, increasing the likelihood of conflict (Center for Climate and Security, 2019).

Escalated tensions may ensue over territorial claims between regional powers fighting to gain control of natural resources needed to sustain local livelihoods (UN Inter-

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

agency Framework Team for Preventive Action, 2012). These climate-related impacts add to existing tensions as populations are stripped of their basic needs, bringing about heightened regional and global threats. Climate change increasingly contributes to state fragility that can then be taken advantage of by terrorists, insurgents, and/or transnational criminal groups (Nett and Rüttinger, 2016). Security risks present in one region then can spill over into nearby fragile areas through humanitarian demands and population movement.

Challenges to both military and civilian infrastructure caused by climate-related risks stem from the disruption or destruction of physical and network infrastructure that can unsettle or weaken regional security (IMCCS, 2020). In low-lying regions of the world, sea level rise and storm surge threaten infrastructure that serves millions (UCS, 2016). Damage to ports and military installations can negatively influence trade and military preparedness as supply chains are disrupted and troops are left unable to deploy (Guy et al., 2020). Similarly, during natural disasters, disruptions in health care, transportation, communication, water treatment, energy, and other infrastructure will exacerbate existing and emerging health issues (NIC, 2017). Military headquarters, logistic hubs, and joint task forces that face extreme climatic stress will exhaust their abilities to carry out operations (Fetzek and Schaik, 2018). If unmitigated, climate change risks can adversely affect international, national, and, more generally, human security.

INTEGRATING ACROSS RISKS

As evident in the previous sections, each of these security risks has multiple intersections with other domestic risks and with similar impacts in other countries. These compound risks arise from global to local interactions resulting from the worldwide exchange of people, goods, money, information, and ideas across human and natural systems including infrastructure (physical and digital), financial institutions, natural resources, manufacturing, food production, biodiversity, climate, and other systems

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

(World Economic Forum, 2020). The complexity of the interactions and underlying systems creates interdependencies that “we do not understand and cannot control well” (Helbing, 2013, p. 51). Research programs need to be designed to model and understand how one system propagates risks to other interconnected systems (Haimes, 2018). Information on how systems are interconnected will better inform decisions at these intersections. Integration requires shifting the focus to the vulnerabilities and capacities of single systems or sectors to interconnected systems and how these will shift over time, taking into account the multidirectional interactions of projected changes, responses, and effects. High resolution multimodel frameworks and analysis tools are needed to understand how human and natural systems co-evolve in response to environmental, technological, and societal transitions and shocks and what approaches can manage the resulting interdependent risks across sectors and geographies. USGCRP (2016) explores the potential for interagency collaboration focused on developing a conceptual framework to integrate models and empirical studies of interdependent systems and the various levels of detail, complexity, and spatiotemporal resolution needed to address specific risk-management approaches.

As risks rise, decision makers will increasingly need to manage and communicate synergies and trade-offs between policies that are potentially beneficial for one sector but harmful in another. Blue boxes throughout the preceding sections provide examples of research questions in each of the security risk areas. These examples illustrate the sort of multidisciplinary research accorded by a risk-framing approach, as well as interconnections among risk areas.

For example, numerous factors across human and natural systems individually and collectively affect the vulnerability of coastal communities to climate change (see Box 2.1), including (1) elevation; (2) rate of locally apparent sea level rise; (3) history of and likely future exposure to extreme weather events, saltwater intrusion, harmful algal blooms, infectious disease organisms, oil spills, chemical contamination, and ocean acidification; (4) susceptibility of critical life- and health-sustaining infrastructure; (5) porous soils and subsidence; (6) history of socioeconomic deprivation; (7) availability and cost of property insurance and financing; (8) political decision making, policies, and regulatory structures of federal, state, and local agencies in relation to coastal development and protection; and (9) effectiveness of community leaders. Many of these factors are also relevant for human health and food and water security; thus, steps to assess, advance understanding of, and manage coastal risks also need to consider implications for these other risk areas (see blue boxes in this chapter).

USGCRP is well positioned to provide leadership in coordinating and integrating research efforts across multiple sectors and agencies. The Program has taken promising

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

steps recently to bring agencies together around three focal areas: water, coasts, and health. These efforts provide a foundation for the sort of integration that will be essential to addressing security risks and should be augmented with efforts to consider risks that cut across these focal areas, as well as the other risks identified here. But many challenges remain for coordinating and integrating research efforts across multiple sectors and agencies. For example, efforts to take account of justice and equity and to engage with decision makers and stakeholders need to be expanded.

IMPLICATIONS OF A RISK FRAMING OF RESEARCH

USGCRP is mandated to help marshal and coordinate resources across multiple participating agencies, in cooperation with similar efforts in other nations, to address risks. Indeed, the Program has already taken some steps in this direction, including efforts to frame sections within the National Climate Assessments in terms of risk. Communicating effective approaches to managing climate-related risks, and ultimately reducing these risks in decades to come, will require robust information and understanding of the physical climate system, ecosystems, and human systems. While USGCRP does not directly manage risks, in setting its research priorities, USGCRP can and should seek to identify information that, when communicated, would be most useful, usable, and impactful at local to national scales. Adopting a broadly defined “value of information” perspective can help not only to maintain a focus on the use and usefulness of the information and insights gained through research, but also to ensure that scarce research resources are allocated so as to be most beneficial in managing risks (e.g., Cooke et al., 2014; Keisler et al., 2014; Rushing et al., 2020). The committee emphasizes again that linking research and research planning to deliberation with interested and impacted parties has proven an effective approach.

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×

Using a risk framing for strategic planning and priority setting, as well as in its assessment activities, USGCRP would prepare the nation for urgent and immediate risks, as well as those projected to occur over the medium term. Centering the next decadal research plan on integrated risk management will require USGCRP and its participating agencies to achieve better alignment and coordination.

The following two chapters discuss these two implications and provide suggestions about how USGCRP can put a risk framing into practice. In the committee’s view, adopting an integrated systems-based risk framing could help ensure that the research outputs of participating USGCRP agencies provide the necessarily integrated information that supports the preparation of assessments, facilitates the synthesis of research and other sources of information to support decision makers at all levels of governance (including those in the private sector), and develops a specific climate change risk-reduction framework.5 These efforts will be key to ensuring that decision makers have the information they need to manage global change risks in an integrated fashion across time scales, taking into account the synergies and trade-offs among the challenges to systems.

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5 The United Nations’ Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR, 2021) provides a model for national- and global-level disaster risk reduction that may be useful in informing a climate change impact risk-reduction framework.

Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
×
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Suggested Citation:"2 Global Change Risks to Human Systems." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2021. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26055.
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The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a collection of 13 Federal entities charged by law to assist the United States and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change. Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031 advises the USGCRP on how best to meet its mandate in light of climate change impacts happening today and projected into the future. This report identifies critical climate change risks, research needed to support decision-making relevant to managing these risks, and opportunities for the USGCRP's participating agencies and other partners to advance these research priorities over the next decade.

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