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Fall 2007 Vol. 7 No. 3

Table of Contents

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Combating Climate Change

How Far Have We Come?

When the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) was established in 2002, the goal was to efficiently coordinate climate change research across all federal agencies. Several years after the program's formation, its former director asked the National Research Council to develop a process for reviewing the entire program and to assess its strengths and weaknesses. The report, CCSP's first review since being established, reveals that the program has made some progress, but in certain areas, more work remains.

On the plus side, the program has clarified understanding of how and why climate is changing, especially at the global scale. Furthermore, scientists have improved their ability to predict future climate changes. Part of these successes is attributed to satellite and in situ observing systems, which have collected a substantial amount of data that has provided a baseline of climate trends.

However, cancellation and delays of several planned satellite missions are the single greatest threat to any future progress of CCSP, the report says. The degradation of observing capability could impact the ability to understand how climate change affects local communities and regions. Better observations, more accurate models, and the development of impact scenarios are needed to improve regional predictions.

Although research on the natural climate system has advanced, CCSP has made limited progress on research in the area of social sciences, including human drivers of climate change such as energy consumption and the impact on human systems like political institutions and economies. In addition, synthesizing and sharing new knowledge to help policymakers make decisions on mitigation and adaptation strategies has been slow. For instance, although CCSP's temperature trends assessment was influential in this year's report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 19 other synthesis and assessment products that were scheduled for release by now are still in production.

A major hurdle has been CCSP's lack of authority to allocate or prioritize funding across participating agencies. Likewise, many of the members of CCSP's interagency working groups have little budgetary authority to implement the program's research agenda. As a result, progress tends to occur only when the priorities of the 13 participating agencies coincide with CCSP's goals.

This report was the first stage of a two-stage evaluation process recommended by the study committee. The second stage, which will need to be completed by CCSP, will diagnose the reasons for weaknesses and identify strategies for improving the program.   -- Jennifer Walsh

Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results.Committee on Strategic Advice on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, Division on Earth and Life Studies and Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education (2007, 174 pp.; ISBN 0-309-10826-8; available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $38.25 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies ).

The committee was chaired by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. The study was funded by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.

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Copyright 2007 by the National Academy of Sciences