Many state and local officials and private organizations are basing decisions — such as how to build bridges or manage water supplies — on the assumption that current climate conditions will continue, but that assumption is no longer valid. To produce the climate information these decision makers need and to deliver it to them effectively, federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency should expand their activities in these areas, says a new report from the National Research Council.
The report recommends six principles that all agencies should follow in supporting decision makers who are facing the effects of climate change. For example, agencies’ efforts should be driven by the needs of end users in the field, not by scientific research priorities. And agencies should create close ties between the scientists who produce climate change information and the practitioners who use it.
The committee that wrote the report also urged an expansion of federal research to generate the information regional and local decision makers need — for example, studies on which locations are vulnerable to the effects of climate change and on ways to mitigate or adapt to these effects. Studies should also assess the best ways to collect and disseminate such information.
In addition, the report calls for a new federal initiative to identify and serve decision makers, such as county planners, who may not already be served by particular agencies. This new initiative should not be centralized in a single agency; instead, it should involve and coordinate all agencies that either serve constituencies affected by climate change or collect the information that these decision makers need. This broad initiative will need strong leadership from the Executive Office of the President, including the president’s science adviser and the new coordinator of energy and climate policy.
The committee was not tasked with evaluating whether a “national climate service” — an idea that has received considerable attention in recent years — should be created. However, if any such service is created, it should use the principles for decision support recommended by the report, and it should be closely linked to national climate research efforts.