The Next Steps for the USGCRP

This week, the National Research Council issued a report of a blue-ribbon panel arguing that the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) may not be able to meet the new decadal goals it’s setting for itself. In less than two weeks, in New Orleans, you’ll get a chance to have your say, too.
USGCRP guides research and disseminates information about climate change, and comprises 13 governmental agencies ranging from the Department of Defense to NASA. The USGCRP assists policymakers; federal, state, and local decision makers; and the public in understanding and adapting to global change.
The program’s new 10-year plan (see draft here; a final version is due next month) broadens USGCRP’s scope from climate to include “climate-related global changes,” building “from core USGCRP capabilities in global climate observation, process understanding, and modeling to strengthen and expand our fundamental scientific understanding of climate change and its interactions with the other critical drivers of global change, such as land-use change, alteration of key biogeochemical cycles, and biodiversity loss.”
The new strategic plan was created to help promote four primary goals of the Program:

  • advance scientific knowledge of the integrated natural and human components of the Earth system;
  • provide the scientific basis for timely adaptation and mitigation;
  • build sustained assessment capacity that improves our understanding, anticipation, and response to global change; and,
  • broaden public understanding of global change.

At the AMS Annual Meeting in New Orleans, a Town Hall Meeting (Tuesday, 12:15 p.m., Room 239) will discuss the new strategic plan and examine forthcoming USGCRP initiatives, including integrated modeling and observations, an interagency global change information system, adaptation research, and the National Climate Assessment. The meeting will also discuss how attendees can become involved in USGCRP activities, and will review current and future products, tools, and services that might be useful to both scientists and decision makers.
Implementation of the decadal strategy won’t be without its challenges, however. The recent National Research Council report praises the USGCRP’s ambition in expanding its scope, but  it also points out that the Program needs greater expertise in certain areas to sufficiently undertake its new plans.

The USGCRP and its member agencies and programs are lacking in capacity to achieve the proposed broadening of the Program, perhaps most seriously with regard to integrating the social and ecological sciences within research and observational programs, and developing the scientific base and organizational capacity for decision support related to mitigation and adaptation choices. Member agencies and programs have insufficient expertise in these domains and lack clear mandates to develop the needed science.

Additionally, the NRC report notes the lack of overarching governance in the USGCRP, which prevents a cohesive foundation of research areas among the Program’s 13 contributing agencies. As a result, those agencies tend to focus on their own pet projects.
“We were hoping there would be a way to coordinate better, especially on the congressional side,” says NCAR’s Warren Washington, who chaired the NRC committee that prepared the report.
Ultimately, the NRC report notes that “a draft federal plan to coordinate research into how to respond to climate change is unlikely to succeed without added resources and new ways to manage the Program.”
“We do recognize there are some gaps in our capacity,” says the NSF’s Timothy Killeen, the USGCRP vice chair who helped develop the new strategic plan. Program officials welcomed the recommendations outlined in the report and have already made plans to bring in more expertise from academia and other agencies to augment research areas that are lacking, as well as form interagency working groups that could help unify the Program.