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FYI Number 119: September 9, 2004

Administration Plans for Climate Change Science

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 Responses.

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 are listed.

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 .

Audrey T. Leath
Media and Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
301-209-3094

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