The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is a federal government program mandated by Congress in 1990 to coordinate and integrate research and investments to “assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change” (GCRA, 1990).
The Global Change Research Act (GCRA) that established the USGCRP defined global change as “changes in the global environment (including alterations in climate, land productivity, oceans or other water resources, atmospheric chemistry, and ecological systems) that may alter the capacity of the Earth to sustain life.” The GCRA identified a set of research elements to advance understanding of global change that include initiatives to understand the nature of and interactions among physical, chemical, biological, and social processes related to global change.
The GCRA requires development by USGCRP of a decadal strategic plan (DSP) and triennial updates to the strategic plan. The purpose of the strategic plan is to define “the goals and priorities for federal global change research which most effectively advance scientific understanding of global change and provide usable information on which to base policy decisions relating to global change” (GCRA, 1990, Sec. 104 (b) 1). USGCRP has developed its most recent draft strategic plan “for longer-term visioning for the Program and [encouraging] convergence among the agencies” (Appendix B).
The draft DSP for 2022-2031 reflects an important transition for the global change research enterprise, recognizing that priority knowledge gaps have shifted over the past decade as decision-makers increasingly grapple with simultaneously managing global changes across multiple sectors and communities. There are urgent needs for useful, more inclusive data and information to ensure effective and efficient decision-making and implementation and thus increase resilience to a rapidly changing environment. The draft DSP embraces a systems-based perspective and a collaborative, inclusive approach. This approach increases emphasis on the social sciences, community engagement (particularly of marginalized populations), and promotion of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice in the production of science, policy, and action. These changes in approaches to global change research should help create new alliances and audiences for the DSP.
The Statement of Task for the Committee’s review of the draft DSP 2022-2013 contains five questions (Appendix A). In considering the charge for this review, the Committee agreed that the scope and content of the draft DSP (question 1) is consistent with the GCRA and its strategic planning provisions (Section 104), recognizing that many of the directives in Section 104 were specific to the development of the first USGCRP Decadal Strategic Plan (GCRA, 1990). The bulk of this report and the Committee’s recommendations consider and address questions 2-4, including the clarity, appropriateness, and fit of the goals in the DSP relative to the Nation’s needs for understanding and responding to global changes, as well as opportunities for strengthening and expanding coordination and integration of global change research. In response to question 5, no major factual errors in the DSP were found.
The Committee applauds the work of the USGCRP in developing this draft Decadal Strategic Plan. In this review report, the Committee provides a series of recommendations on cross-cutting themes, and others specific to the DSP’s four pillars, while recognizing the
constraints within which USGCRP operates. The Committee hopes its recommendations contribute to an even stronger Decadal Strategic Plan for 2022-2031.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
The core of the DSP is structured around four pillars (USGCRP, 2022): (1) Advancing Science, (2) Informing Decisions, (3) Engaging the Nation, and (4) Collaborating Internationally. The Committee’s recommendations included those for individual pillars and cross-cutting recommendations that apply across the plan.
Recommendations on the Four Pillars
The draft DSP proposes four pillars for the next decade of USGCRP’s work. The Committee supports these pillars and the advances they represent. The Committee also provides observations and recommendations to strengthen each pillar.
The draft DSP strengthens the role of engagement throughout the USGCRP’s work. A structural change to the four pillars can reinforce the importance of engagement.
Recommendation: Reorder the sequence of the pillars to strengthen the interconnections between advancing science and engagement as Advancing Science, Engaging the Nation, Informing Decisions, Collaborating Internationally.
“Advancing Science” pillar: The Committee highlights opportunities to enhance the pillar by strengthening attention to urgency, interconnections, and outputs from global change research, as well as expanded indicators of global changes.
Recommendation: In the Advancing Science Pillar, (1) strengthen recognition of the urgency of global change issues, (2) define tangible outputs from this work, (3) make stronger connections to other pillars, and (4) increase the number and breadth of social and environmental indicators of global change, including for adaptation and resilience.
“Engaging the Nation” pillar: The draft DSP makes important space for new audiences to be engaged in the work of the USGCRP and global change research, including as partners in co-development of research and applications. Ongoing engagement and learning throughout the period of the DSP can strengthen these roles and contributions to global change work.
Recommendation: Include in the Engagement Pillar recognition of (1) new audiences for the DSP and mechanisms for engagement with them; (2) people- and place-based research to further deeper recognition of global change, associated risks, and effective and timely interventions; and (3) topics that would benefit from a sustained assessment process.
“Informing Decisions” pillar: The Committee recognizes the important ongoing work and commitments in the draft DSP for extending development and availability of climate information to support decision making; these information sources and platforms can serve as useful examples for addressing a broader range of global change challenges.
Recommendation: Expand on successful USGCRP efforts related to climate information products by providing specific outputs to assess progress and extend efforts to other global change issues.
“Collaborating Internationally” pillar: The Committee applauds the USGCRP for making international collaboration one of the pillars in the framework of the DSP for 2022-2031 and sees opportunities for expanding the types and focus of such collaborations.
Recommendation: Expand the discussion of international collaboration in the DSP to highlight examples of collaborations and emerging global change issues where U.S. or other national interventions could have international consequences and where international expertise could benefit the U.S. research enterprise to enhance resilience and sustainability nationally and globally.
Urgency: The Committee found that the draft DSP appropriately identifies the urgent nature of global change challenges and the importance of research to respond to those challenges. However, the draft DSP is uneven in identifying key global change challenges and desired outputs (research products). While a sense of urgency is conveyed for climate change, the sense of urgency is not equally well articulated for other global changes that affect the resilience of human and natural systems.
Recommendation: Maintain a strong sense of urgency throughout the DSP for meeting the challenges of global change for human and natural systems, including climate change, changes in land use and oceans, biodiversity, and the safety and security of food and water, among others.
Interconnections and Integration: The Committee recognizes the value of the four pillars as an organizing device for the DSP. However, pillars may act as silos, hampering interactions among the elements of the DSP. Highlighting cross-cutting themes and interactions among these themes may lead to a stronger strategic plan and more impactful research.
Recommendation: Stress interconnections and integration among pillars, including key themes and issues common to multiple pillars, and among global change issues, with enhanced integration of social sciences and systems-based research.
Coordination: The Committee finds that the DSP’s discussion of international coordination in Pillar 4 is strong and commendable, but it notes that other types of coordination receive less attention across the other pillars. Given the USGCRP’s mission to foster
coordination across federal agencies, the DSP could do more to describe how the Program will further cooperation within the USGCRP and across other federal agencies to facilitate accomplishments under the final Decadal Strategic Plan (“final DSP”).
Recommendation: Describe how USGCRP plans to strengthen coordination within, across, and beyond federal agencies within the “Advancing Science”, “Engaging the Nation”, and “Informing Decisions” Pillars, comparable to the level of specificity provided in the “Collaborating Internationally” Pillar.
Outputs: The draft DSP includes general statements about goals and research objectives, offering a direction of change. These statements and the final DSP would be strengthened by identifying ambitious research outputs that can be accomplished within the decadal time frame of the DSP, recognizing that budgets are uncertain.
Recommendation: Include illustrative examples of key research outputs in the DSP, where enhanced understanding of underlying science processes could advance policy and decision making on global change challenges to human and natural systems.
Strategic Flexibility: Ongoing global changes, along with changing vulnerabilities, capacities, and technologies, will continue to alter the context for global change research over the coming decade. The final DSP should explicitly aim to increase flexibility over the planning period to create new opportunities to increase resilience and sustainability at all levels, as well as insights from existing activities such as triennial reviews of the DSP. Regular evaluation of progress within and across all pillars of the final DSP would help create flexibility for mid-course corrections to enhance impact.
Recommendation: Add an approach to evolve the research questions, needs, and outputs in response to systematic evaluation and feedback from stakeholders and to respond to programmatic and technological developments.