Expert Report

Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results (2007)

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The U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) coordinates the efforts of 13 federal agencies to understand why climate is changing, to improve predictions about how it will change in the future, and to use that information to assess impacts on human systems and ecosystems and to better support decision making. This report is the first review of the CCSP's progress since the program was established in 2002. It lays out a method for evaluating the CCSP, and uses that method to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the entire program and to identify areas where progress has not met expectations. The committee found that the program has made good progress in documenting and understanding temperature trends and related environmental changes on a global scale, as well as in understanding the influence of human activities on these observed changes. The ability to predict future climate changes also has improved, but efforts to understand the impacts of such changes on society and analyze mitigation and adaptation strategies are still relatively immature. The program also has not met expectations in supporting decision making, studying regional impacts, and communicating with a wider group of stakeholders.

Key Messages

  • Discovery science and understanding of the climate system are proceeding well, but use of that knowledge to support decision making and to manage risks and opportunities of climate change is proceeding slowly.
  • Our understanding of the impact of climate changes on human well-being and vulnerabilities is much less developed than our understanding of the natural climate system.
  • Progress in communicating CCSP results and engaging stakeholders is inadequate.
  • Progress in understanding and predicting climate change has improved more at global, continental, and ocean basin scales than at regional and local scales.
  • Science quality observation systems have fueled advances in climate change science and applications, but many existing and planned observing systems have been cancelled, delayed, or degraded, which threatens future progress.
  • The separation of leadership and budget authority presents a serious obstacle to progress in the CCSP.