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FYI Number 137: December 18, 2002

Administration Seeking Comments on Climate Change Plan

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

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 efforts.

"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 itself."

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 technologies … FreedomCAR and the hydrogen economy … carbon sequestration research … 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
(301) 209-3094

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