Sen. Kerry calls for new National Climate Change Assessment


[The Climate Science Watch blog returns to action after an August hiatus.] 
In a letter to Bush administration officials Sen. John Kerry has called for the production of the now-overdue second National Climate Change Assessment.  The administration politically suppressed official use of the first National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts, a seminal major work, and has killed the process that could have produced an updated assessment. 

Climate Science Watch has obtained a copy of Sen. Kerry’s letter from his office.  The letter nails key points quite well.  In addition to calling for a second National Assessment, it calls on the administration to promote the use of the existing 2000 National Assessment in decisionmaking by federal departments and agencies. 

It would be good to see a Congressional investigation of the National Assessment—past, present, and hopefully future—as part of oversight of the White House’s role in manipulating the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.  We see this as the central climate science scandal of the Bush administration and will be having a good deal more to say on the subject in the coming period.

The text of the letter follows.  (In addition to the other administration officials to whom the letter was sent, as the interim director of the Climate Change Science Program, Bill Brennan of the Department of Commerce should have been addressed instead of the now-retired Dr. James Mahoney.  Presumably a multitasking error.) 

John Kerry
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-2102
August 21, 2006

Dr. John Marburger III, Executive Director            
Office of Science and Technology Policy                
Executive Office of the President                      
725 17th Street Room 5228                          
Washington, DC 20502

Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez
U.S. Department of Commerce
14th & Constitution Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20230

Dr. James R. Mahoney, Director                      
U.S. Climate Change Science Program                
1717 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Suite 250                
Washington, DC 20006                                
Secretary Samuel Bodman
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20585

Re: Request for National Assessment of Climate Change Required by the Global Change Research Act of 1990

Dear Dr. Marburger, Secretary Gutierrez, Dr. Mahoney, and Secretary Bodman:
The challenge of global climate change continues to receive insufficient attention from this Administration, despite its critical importance to our national security, environment, public health, and economy.  Already, the World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 lives are lost each year due to human-induced climate change. Global warming is also projected to change weather patterns and increase the intensity of our storms. With last year’s hurricanes causing billions of dollars of damage and disrupting many thousands of lives in the United States, the importance of understanding and mitigating these predicted changes cannot be overstated.  Increasing temperatures also threaten global biodiversity. Unfortunately, the scientific consensus is that the changes we have experienced to date are modest compared to those that will result from the temperature and sea level increases predicted for this coming century.
Recognizing that access to the best available scientific information is particularly vital in formulating climate change policy to abate and cope with global climate change, Congress enacted the 1990 Global Change Research Act (“GCRA”). The purpose of the GCRA is “to provide for development and coordination of a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” 
The heart of the GCRA is its requirement that the Climate Change Science Program (“Program”) prepare, not less frequently than every four years, a scientific assessment of its national global change research (hereinafter the “National Assessment”) that: (1) “integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program;” (2) “analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity;” and (3) “analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.”  The Program is required to submit the National Assessment to Congress and make it available to all Federal agencies and departments for use in carrying out statutory duties and obligations that implicate climate change.
Contrary to the clear requirement to prepare a National Assessment no less frequently than every four years, the Program has not submitted a National Assessment of climate change impacts since November 2000.  It’s important to note that the 2000 Assessment met all of the statutory criteria, including identifying key climatic vulnerabilities of particular regions and economic sectors of the country in the context of the changes in the nation’s environment, resources, and economy. 
Under the GCRA, the Program was required to submit a second National Assessment by November 2004, but it has not complied with this statutory deadline.  Instead, the Program has developed a strategic plan calling for the issuance of 21 shorter reports between 2005 and 2007.  Despite the immediacy of the global warming threat, the Program is not even on track to meet the schedule of its own strategic plan. To date, it has released only one of the proposed 21 reports: Product 1.1 (Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences).  More importantly, the 21 reports, while providing useful information, do not meet the statutory criteria and cannot take the place of the synthesis required by the GCRA.  The delay in producing a National Assessment that meets all of the statutory requirements of the GCRA and incorporates the ever-growing body of scientific literature on climate change is a severe impediment to well-informed government policy and action on global warming.
Due to our concerns about the Program’s failure to submit the required National Assessment, Senator John McCain and I requested that the United States Government Accounting Office (GAO) evaluate the Program’s compliance with the requirements of the GCRA.  After a review of the GCRA, its legislative history, and agency documents, the GAO concluded in April 2005 that the 21-report strategic plan does not meet the requirements of the GCRA.  As an initial matter, the schedule for reports clearly does not comply with the statutory time frame.  In addition, there is no indication that the planned reports will adequately address all of the topics required by the GCRA.  Finally, I would point out that the 21 shorter reports cannot substitute for the single, coherent synthesis required by the GCRA to enable Congress and federal agencies to make informed, effective decisions to address the impacts of climate change on the United States. 
For these reasons, I urge you to promptly prepare and transmit the overdue National Assessment to Congress.  In the interim, I urge you to promote greater use of the existing 2000 National Assessment by all federal agencies and departments to ensure that their decisions implicating climate change are informed by this cohesive, informative document.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to your prompt response.

John Kerry

This entry was posted in Assessments of Climate Impacts and Adaptation, Congress: Legislation and Oversight, U.S. Global Change Research Program. Bookmark the permalink.

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