U.S. Climate Change Strategy Up for Public Comment

WASHINGTON, DC, December 3, 2002 (ENS) - A new U.S. climate change research strategy that U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans terms "aggressive" is the focus of a three day workshop that opened today in Washington. The U.S. Climate Change Science Program has welcomed more than 1,100 experts from across the country and around the world to receive comments on a discussion draft version of its "Strategic Plan" for climate change and global change studies.

The Climate Change Science Program, incorporating the U.S. Global Change Research Program and the Climate Change Research Initiative, is jointly sponsored by 13 U.S. government agencies. The workshop will review the plan, first issued November 19, with a view to finding ways to support climate change policy and resource management decision making within five years.

In an opinion statement today, Commerce Secretary Evans acknowledges that "the surface temperature of the Earth has warmed, rising 0.6 degrees Celsius (one degree Fahrenheit) over the past century. And the National Academy of Sciences indicates that human activity is a contributing factor to higher concentrations of greenhouse gases."

Evans

Commerce Secretary Donald Evans was in the oil and gas industry before joining the Bush Cabinet. (Photo courtesy Office of the Secretary)
Yet, Evans says, a great deal is still not known about the sciences of climate change, and the Climate Change Research Initiative focus is defined by this group of uncertainties.

"We do not know the effect of natural fluctuations in climate on warming or adequately understand the natural carbon and water cycles. We do not yet adequately understand the role of clouds, oceans and aerosol emissions on global climate change. We cannot confidently project how our climate could or will change. We do not know definitely what constitutes a dangerous level of warming," Evans said today.

The Strategic Plan confirms that the climate change is occurring. "Currently, measurements taken at the Earth’s surface, in various layers of the atmosphere, in boreholes, in the oceans, and in other environmental systems such as the cryosphere [frozen regions] indicate that the climate is warming," it states.

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Alaska's Hubberd Glacier is melting. As a result Russell Lake has been rising at about six inches (15 cm) per day, covering former beaches and flooding into the tree line. (Photo courtesy National Park Service)
The plan points to some inconsistencies in the scientific record. "Apparently contradicting the evidence of warming are inconsistencies in the observational record, particularly related to the differences between temperature trends measured at the surface and measurements taken from satellite observations of the lower- to mid-troposphere, which show no significant warming trends in the last two decades of the 20th century," it says.

This and other gaps in the climate science remain "an important challenge with significant potential implications for decisionmaking," the discussion document states.

The draft plan has been prepared by the 13 federal agencies participating in the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), with input from scientific steering groups. Articles appear written by authors from the U.S. space agency, NASA; the oceans and atmosphere agency, NOAA; the energy department, and the EPA, among others.

As Plan Coordinator for the Office of the U.S. Global Change Research Program, Dr. Richard H. Moss led a staff of 17 climate experts in preparation of the strategic plan, which sets priorities for the nation's $1.8 billion annual multi-agency research program.

Moss

Dr. Richard H. Moss (Photo courtesy PNNL)
Dr. Moss, a staff scientist associated with Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) since 1993, specializes in research and assessment of global environmental change. From 1993 to 1998, he headed the Technical Support Unit, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II.

Secretary Evans today explained once again why the Bush administration prefers "market-based" means of dealing with climate change with science and technology above the method of the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Climate Convention that would set binding limits on the emission of six heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

"Rather than pitting economic growth against the environment, as the Kyoto Protocol would do, and imposing massive job losses on the American people," said Evans, the Bush administration climate plan, "promises real progress by harnessing the power of sound science and cutting edge technologies. And, it ensures that America's workers and the citizens of the developing world are not unfairly penalized.

The new U.S. climate research strategy focuses on three broad tiers of activities, Evans said today, "scientific inquiry that is objective and well documented; observation and monitoring systems to provide needed, comprehensive global data; and development of decision support resources, including the ability to explore various potential outcomes."

The United States spends more money on research and technology development directed at climate change than any other nation, $20 billion since 1990. "That's three times as much as any other country," said Evans. "It is more than Japan and all 15 nations of the European Union combined."

Even if the most perfect set of data possible is assembled, "This is because these activities are not predetermined, but rather depend on human choices, which will, in turn, affect future climate conditions,"

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Agricultural engineers Daren Harmel and Clarence Richardson inspect soil cracks caused by severe drought, to determine the effects on crop production. July 2001. (Photo by Scott Bauer courtesy USDA)
The human activities that drive climate warming - emissions of greenhouse gases; changing the surface of the land through clearing, conversion, and growth of different land covers; and the release of chemicals that alter the productivity of the land and the oceans - all depend on a basic set of human driving forces, the plan states. Population growth, living standards, characteristics of technology, and institutions are cited as factors that may determine human choices affecting the climate.

The challenge is discerning whether human activities are causing the observed climatic changes and impacts. This requires detecting a small, decade-by-decade trend against the backdrop of wide temperature changes that occur on shorter timescales of seasons or years.

The Strategic Plan is intended as a vehicle to facilitate comments and suggestions by the scientific and stakeholder communities interested in climate and global change issues.

"We welcome comments on this draft plan by all interested persons," says Dr. James Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, and director, Climate Change Science Program. Comments may be provided during the U.S. Climate Change Science Program Planning Workshop for Scientists and Stakeholders being held in Washington, DC on December 3 – 5, 2002, and during a subsequent public comment period extending to January 13, 2003.

Information about the Workshop and the written comment opportunities is available online at: www.climatescience.gov.

A newly formed committee of the National Research Council is also reviewing the draft plan, and will provide its analysis of the plan, the workshop and the written comments received after the workshop. A final version of the strategic plan, setting a path for the next few years of research under the Climate Change Science Program, will be published by April 2003.