The Bush Administration recently issued a draft strategic plan to
guide its climate change research strategy and directions. Over a thousand
scientists, government officials and other stakeholders, both domestic
and international, gathered together December 3-5 at a workshop to review
the draft plan and provide comments and suggestions. Additional public
comments will be accepted through JANUARY 13, 2003. The draft "Strategic
Plan for the Climate Change Science Program," and instructions
for submitting comments, are available at http://www.climatescience.gov.
The federal government has several ongoing, interrelated multi-agency
initiatives to address global warming and climate change. In February
2002, President Bush established the Climate Change Science Program
(CCSP) as a management structure to balance broad-based fundamental
research with a near-term focus on key issues needed for policy decisions.
The just-released strategic plan is intended as a roadmap for these
"In the last decades of the 20th century," says the plan's
Introduction, "public debate about the contribution of human activities
to observed climate change and potential future changes in climate,
and about courses of action to manage risks to humans and the environment,
has been active and frequently contentious. These debates cover a range
of both science and policy issues, including the extent to which global
temperatures have in fact changed; whether most of the observed overall
change in temperature of the last 50 years is attributable to human
activities...; how much climate might change in the future; and whether
proposed response strategies, such as reductions in emissions or efforts
to enhance natural carbon sequestration processes, would produce economic
or other effects more detrimental than the effects of climate change
The plan acknowledges that "humans have become agents of environmental
change," but points to "inconsistencies in the observational
record" and calls for more and better observations in order to
discern human-induced changes against a background of natural variability.
It also calls for additional research in many areas to reduce uncertainties
and improve current climate models. "Given what is at stake,"
it says, "the Nation and the international community need the best
possible science to inform public debate and decisionmaking in government
and the private sector."
The plan sets out a series of major research questions addressing how
the components of the Earth's environmental system function and are
affected by human and natural forcing, and the implications for natural
environments and human activities. These research areas include: atmospheric
composition, climate variability and change; global water and carbon
cycles; ecosystems; land use and land cover change; human contributions
and responses to environmental change; and grand challenges in modeling,
observations, and information systems.
The 15-chapter draft plan presents a "set of questions and objectives
for each of the major areas of the program. Primary research questions
that focus on broad science issues are supported by more detailed questions
and objectives that can be addressed in specific research initiatives
and projects. For each major question addressed, the strategy includes
a very brief description of the state of knowledge, subsidiary questions,
descriptions of products and deliverables, information on activities
and infrastructure needed to make progress, and the benefits or payoffs'
from research. For each major program area, linkages to important national
and international research activities are also described."
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham presented the keynote speech at the
workshop. Portions of his speech follow (some paragraphs have been combined
to save space):
"From the first months of this Administration, President
Bush has made the subject of global climate change a priority. The
President has reaffirmed America's commitment to the United Nations
Framework Convention and its central goal to stabilize atmospheric
greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that will prevent dangerous
human interference with the climate.
"The challenge, of course, is fashioning a program to
accomplish these goals. In this regard, the options could include
anything from either outlawing [greenhouse gas] producing entities
to taxing the use of such things in an attempt to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions. But, obviously, any such draconian actions would surely
be accompanied by drastic economic dislocation. Accordingly, we determined
that the only pathway forward to address [greenhouse gas] emissions
consistent with economic growth was to develop the science and technology
needed to devise real answers to the challenges of climate change."
"It is important to note that our approach is one that
relies on economic growth, not one that condemns it. Sustained
economic growth,' as President Bush said earlier this year, is
the solution, not the problem, because a nation that grows its economy
is a nation that can afford investments and new technologies.'"
"The Department of Commerce has been tasked with leading
the government's efforts to understand the science involved in climate
change.... However...our response to the threat of climate change
will in no small measure depend on the development of new energy technology,
implemented over the long-term. That's where the Department of Energy
comes in, and that is why we are leading the government's efforts
on the technology front."
"In February of this year, the President...committed
the United States to an aggressive strategy to cut greenhouse gas
intensity by 18 percent over the next decade - a first step to eventually
stopping, and then reversing, greenhouse gas growth.... Advanced energy
FreedomCAR and the hydrogen economy
enhancing the role of nuclear power
- these are just some of the investments we are making to provide
the breakthroughs needed to dramatically decrease our emissions in
the long term. There are, of course, many other initiatives and programs
throughout the federal government, along with valuable partnerships
with private industry and with other nations, which aim at this goal.
You have been briefed on many of these by earlier speakers.
"These are all part of a comprehensive, responsible
strategy for dealing with climate change. We are taking a sensible
approach to a complicated issue. And we are committed to dealing with
it on the basis of cold facts and hard science."
Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics