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

Chapter:6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm

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Suggested Citation:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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 SIX

Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm

Climate change is a grand challenge for society in the 21st century. The continued accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the growing impact of climate change on the lives of the American people increase the urgency of implementing effective, science-based policies to limit climate change and to manage its consequences. Similarly, policies are needed to address other critical global environmental changes, such as land use, biodiversity loss, and eutrophication of Earth’s ecosystem with nitrogen. To produce the scientific understanding needed to inform such policies, the nation requires a U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP or the Program) commensurate with the scope, scale, and urgency of these challenges, and with its mandates described in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (GCRA): “a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.”

As input to USGCRP’s process to develop its new strategic plan, the committee recommends that the Program apply an integrated risk-framing approach to identify research priorities. This approach would provide insights to avoid the worst potential consequences of urgent risks to human and natural systems from current and future climate change. This approach demands a paradigm shift that reorients research priorities from a historic focus on individual aspects of the natural science and the social and behavioral science to furthering understanding of coupled human-natural systems important to society, including food, water, health, transportation and infrastructure, energy systems, the economy, and national and international strategic interests (discussed in Chapter 2). The sustained security of these systems in a changing climate will be a major consideration over the coming decade.

The committee calls for USGCRP to prioritize research to manage these threats through mitigation, adaptation, and strategies that combine them (discussed in Chapters 3 and 4). An integrated systems-based approach is essential for understanding the complex consequences of concurrent mitigation and adaptation actions, and the interactions between mitigation and adaptation strategies. Such a comprehensive perspective of risk management will facilitate how the Program addresses emerging challenges posed by global change, including the co-benefits of mitigation action and

Suggested Citation:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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.
×

the synergistic and/or antagonistic results of multiple adaptation strategies, in ways that will be useful to decision makers at multiple levels of society. Solar geoengineering, also discussed in this report, is another potential strategy that requires further research to better understand both its technical and social feasibility, characterize the potential impacts and risks of these approaches, and consider how such measures could interact with mitigation and adaptation.

This future research agenda will require the continued work of USGCRP and mission agencies to address critical gaps in fundamental understanding within natural and social sciences. As part of these efforts, the committee recommends expanded research in five crosscutting areas: (1) increasing understanding of extremes, thresholds, and tipping points; (2) projecting regional- and local-scale climate and vulnerabilities; (3) refining a scenarios-based approach to project climate change, associated risks, and effectiveness of mitigation and adaptation policies; (4) addressing multiple dimensions of equity and social justice; and (5) augmenting existing analysis frameworks and supporting data (discussed in Chapter 5).

More generally, USGCRP needs to elevate the status and support for social sciences within its portfolio to ensure that the research program yields useful information to support decisions for effectively managing shocks and stresses that can cascade through communities and states (Chapter 3). It is clear to the committee that without knowledge gained from strong social science research and the application of this knowledge to the climate change challenge, the essential societal buy-in for necessary mitigation and adaptation actions is unlikely to happen. This research needs to focus on the most vulnerable individuals, communities, and regions and promote equitable approaches and solutions.

The committee’s vision for a strategic plan guided by the recommendations outlined above is both ambitious and necessary for USGCRP. The need for more integrated research, risk-management support, and advances in the identified crosscutting areas have long been recognized within the Program but not yet realized. Existing challenges facing the Program include (1) constraints on top-line budgets that have resulted in an assumption that changes must be dealt with in a “zero-sum” game; (2) the dominance of natural science-focused agencies within the Program; and (3) the emphasis within the National Science Foundation (NSF)—the agency that may be most suited to social science and cross-disciplinary research—on fundamental rather than a use-inspired combination of fundamental and applied research.

The committee’s vision for USGCRP to more fully meet the mandate of the Global Change Research Act in the coming decade, given the significant climate change impacts happening today and projected to increase in the future, will require a significant expansion

Suggested Citation:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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.
×

in scope and funding. USGCRP agencies need to maintain critical Earth system research while also providing more resources for essential social science research and research needed to couple natural and social sciences to address priority research gaps.

ORGANIZATIONAL AND OPERATIONAL CHANGES

The committee provides a set of suggested organizational changes, as well as operational recommendations and proposed actions, in support of the recommendation above.

Suggested Organizational Changes

In the committee’s judgment, a set of three organizational changes that fall into the category of “enlarging the tent” have the potential for adding both intellectual and financial resources in support of USGCRP’s efforts to adopt the integrated systems-based approach to risk management. The first of these organizational changes focuses on federal agencies that are already part of USGCRP. These agencies need to update their level of engagement in the Program by increasing involvement of their suborganizations that bring relevant expertise and operational responsibilities to the table. For example, within the Department of Commerce, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) supports standards development for greenhouse gas emission monitoring and measurement, but other programs that develop additional relevant knowledge and standards, such as those for buildings or fire safety that are pertinent to the mitigation of or adaptation to global change impacts,1 are not traditionally considered part of NIST’s engagement with USGCRP. Another opportunity would be engaging subagencies within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), such as the National Ocean Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, that possess expertise required to understand and project fisheries tipping points (see Chapter 5) and inform fisheries management (NASEM, 2016a). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) includes organizations involved in preparing adaptation and mitigation strategies with respect to agriculture and rural land use,

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1 See https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-17-3.

Suggested Citation:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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.
×

such as the Risk Management Agency, Rural Development, and the Office of the Chief Economist, which may be further, and more formally, leveraged in the Program’s activities. There also may be additional opportunities within the Department of Transportation, where the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Aviation Administration are engaged with state and local stakeholders in transportation-related resilience and mitigation efforts.2

The second suggested organizational change calls on USGCRP to encourage greater participation of federal mission agencies that historically have not participated in USGCRP but have relevant resources and critical expertise. As noted in the committee’s 2016 report Enhancing Participation in the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the Program could benefit from collaborations with these mission agencies in both helping define the research agenda and in translating research into practice (NASEM, 2016a). Examples include the Department of Homeland Security and its components, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the Department of Labor (NASEM, 2016a). Additionally, greater participation of agencies with international perspectives in USGCRP, such as the Fogarty International Center within the Department of Health and Human Services, National Intelligence Council, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) can help to foster efforts to address global health and economic security in the context of global change (NASEM, 2016a). USGCRP would also benefit from engaging with intelligence agencies and offices that hold critical expertise, such as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, who has examined how climate change and environmental degradation threaten U.S. national security (Kiemel, 2019; NIC, 2017).

The third suggested organizational change involves developing public-private partnerships in support of climate change research and science-to-action activities. The concept of public-private partnerships is not new for USGCRP. It was a core concept in Chapter 30 of the Third National Climate Assessment titled “Sustained Assessment: A New Vision for Future U.S. Assessments” (Hall et al., 2014). Besides adding intellectual and financial resources, public-private partnerships can increase the engagement of Americans in climate change—its causes, its impacts, and its solutions.

Recommended Operational Changes

The committee believes instituting four operational changes could help USGCRP reorient its approach to global change research. Throughout the report, the committee

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2 See, for example: https://www.globalchange.gov/agency/department-transportation; https://www.globalchange.gov/agency/department-agriculture.

Suggested Citation:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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.
×

has underscored the importance of considering equity and social justice as part of the climate change challenge. USGCRP has a special role to play in this critical issue. The committee strongly encourages USGCRP to champion diversity among the participants in global change science. An initial step would be an effort to better understand the current state of, and trends in, diversity among individuals involved in research across USGCRP member agencies and, in particular, the extent to which those individuals are representative of the communities considered at greatest risk from climate change and climate policies. In the longer term, ongoing engagement via deliberation and consultation between scientists and underrepresented communities would help build trust and engagement. This trust would perhaps be more easily gained if some of the scientists in the dialogue were themselves members of the underrepresented communities.

The second change focuses on coproduction, an approach used by several USGCRP agencies for more than a decade. For example, NOAA’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program and the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS’s) Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CACSs) have regularly engaged stakeholders in climate change research design and execution. As discussed in Chapter 3, research priorities need to put user needs at the forefront to ensure the research is useful, usable, and used. Further, users who are involved in setting, implementing, and communicating a research agenda are more likely to embrace its findings and information products. It would be helpful for USGCRP to develop a mechanism for evaluating the efficacy of coproduction efforts and guide the development of a list of best practices and design principles.

It is also critical that the next strategic plan outline the process through which participating agencies coordinate and adjust their individual program plans to avoid duplication and fill gaps critical to meeting overall program objectives. The committee’s third operational change is therefore that USGCRP advance program integration and accountability by increasing transparency of the management structure and criteria for setting priorities, sequencing investments, and guiding development of an integrated program across the individual agencies. This process should include ongoing input from user communities on a sustained basis in keeping with effective engagement processes.

The fourth operational change is to consider developing and using mechanisms to monitor and evaluate its activities, and to use lessons learned to guide the Program’s action going forward. This adaptive learning approach will allow the Program to adapt to changing priorities as scientific progress is made, and global change risks are increasingly prepared for and mitigated. The adaptive learning approach will also help the Program to better understand its potential impacts and improve the usability of its information. As part of these monitoring, evaluation, and learning efforts, the commit-

Suggested Citation:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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.
×

tee encourages the Program to pay special attention to the diversity issues raised in this report—the recruitment of scientists from underrepresented groups, the science the program supports, and in the communities with which the Program engages.

The committee recognizes the ambitious scope of the recommended re-orientation of USGCRP’s next strategic plan, given the challenges to expanding the Program. A set of potential actions are provided by the committee in Box 6.1, that may help the Program ensure an effective implementation of its new strategic plan.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates the need to envision and plan for multiple, often simultaneous, and multilevel disruptions to human, physical, and ecological systems. The pandemic also provides a vivid reminder that science-based challenges should be managed using science-based policies. Specifically, such preparation for

Suggested Citation:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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.
×

multiple cascading risks requires interdisciplinary science more than ever, including the full range of disciplines across natural and social sciences.

In the future, the nation cannot afford for the scope of the Program to be based on historical budget constraints, the traditional ways that participating agencies determine their engagement in USGCRP activities, or the current identification of agencies that formally participate in USGCRP. The Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 provides the flexibility for USGCRP to include the agency participation necessary to meet the nation’s needs for useful information. The GCRA also mandates that USGCRP provide readily usable information to guide effective strategies to mitigate and adapt to the effects of global change. An integrated systems-based risk-management approach as proposed by the committee in this report would enable USGCRP to meet this mandate.

Finally, the committee urges USGCRP to be bold in crafting its new strategic plan. This plan will be developed at a time when the nation is facing multiple interconnected challenges beyond climate change—COVID-19, a struggling economy, and longstanding issues related to equity and social justice. USGCRP has the opportunity to put forward a strategic plan that explains how global change research, particularly climate change research, contributes to the knowledge set needed to address these multiple interrelated challenges, and ultimately prepare society to create a more resilient future.

Suggested Citation:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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:"6 Next Steps for Shifting the USGCRP Paradigm." 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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