On August 25, the Bush Administration submitted to Congress its annual
report on the science supported by the federal government to better
understand climate change. The report, "Our Changing Planet: The
U.S. Climate Change Science Program [CCSP] for Fiscal Years 2004 and
2005," summarizes the government's strategic plan for climate change
science, highlights some recent research results, and lays out future
plans for accomplishing the program's research goals. It does not offer
any policy recommendations.
Many of the research elements in the strategic plan incorporate research
into human-induced impacts on environmental and climate systems. The
report acknowledges the human role in increasing emissions of carbon
dioxide, and refers to carbon dioxide as "the largest single forcing
agent of climate change." It discusses the approaches available
to "decisionmakers searching for options to stabilize or mitigate
concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere." However,
cautionary words note that the report itself "does not make any
findings of fact that could serve as predicates for regulatory action.
Agencies must comply with required statutory and regulatory processes
before they could rely on any statements in this document or by the
CCSP as a basis for regulatory action."
The Climate Change Science Program coordinates and integrates the climate
and global change research performed and supported by 13 participating
federal departments and agencies. FY 2004 funding across those 13 agencies
totaled $1,996 million; the FY 2005 request is for $1,955 million, a
2.1 percent reduction. According to CCSP Director James Mahoney, the
report "documents our continued commitment to providing the public
and decision makers with the best possible scientific information to
address climate variability and change, and related aspects of global
change.... This research will help decision makers and managers in the
United States and other countries evaluate and respond to climate change."
This report summarizes the main points of the July 2003 strategic plan
for climate change research (available at www.climatescience.gov/Library/stratplan2003/final/default.htm),
including its seven interdisciplinary research elements. Each research
element is highlighted in a separate chapter, in which strategic research
questions, recent research results, and plans for future research are
outlined. The seven research elements are: Atmospheric Composition;
Climate Variability and Change; Global Water Cycle; Land-Use/Land-Cover
Change; Global Carbon Cycle; Ecosystems; and Human Contributions and
In the chapter on the Global Carbon Cycle, the report notes that carbon
dioxide "is the largest single forcing agent of climate change,"
that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane "have
been increasing for about two centuries as a result of human activities,"
and that "approximately three-quarters of present-day anthropogenic
[carbon dioxide] emissions are due to fossil fuel combustion."
For policymakers seeking to stabilize or mitigate atmospheric greenhouse
gas concentrations, the report mentions two broad approaches: reduction
of carbon emissions at their source, and enhanced carbon sequestration.
It warns, however, that with sequestration, "uncertainties remain
about how much additional carbon storage can be achieved, the efficacy
and longevity of carbon sequestration approaches, whether they will
lead to unintended environmental consequences, and just how vulnerable
or resilient the global carbon cycle is to such manipulations."
The chapter takes note of recent research progress in areas such as
quantifying greenhouse gas trends, measuring terrestrial carbon sinks,
and improving inventories of oceanic anthropogenic carbon dioxide. Research
plans for FY 2004 and 2005 include continuing "to focus on understanding
and quantifying global carbon sources and sinks, with a particular emphasis
on North America and adjacent oceans for the near term, and on filling
critical gaps in understanding in order to reduce major uncertainties
about the global carbon cycle." A number of specific research areas
The report, "Our Changing Planet: The U.S. Climate Change Science
Program for Fiscal Years 2004 and 2005," which runs 150 pages in
the hardcopy version, was accompanied by a transmittal letter signed
by Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham,
and OSTP Director John Marburger. The report, with transmittal letter
and press release, can be found at www.climatescience.gov
and at www.usgcrp.gov .