Call for public comments on revised U.S. climate science research plan


A summary of a revised research plan for the U.S. Climate Change Science Program has been posted for public review and comment during January and February. Following our August 2007 victory in federal court in the Center for Biological Diversity et al. lawsuit against the Bush administration, the administration is scrambling to meet a court ordered deadline to produce by May 2008 a new federal research plan and a scientific assessment focusing on global change impacts—two documents that they previously had no intention of producing during this year.

The public comment period, which runs until February 26, is an opportunity to raise issues about what kind of climate change assessment, risk management decision support, and public communication on climate and global change we want to see included in Climate Change Science Program’s high-priority future activities. The August 2007 federal court ruling against the administration said that “the Scientific Assessment must in some manner integrate, evaluate, and interpret the public comments of the Research Plan.”
Summary of the revised research plan (as published in the Federal Register December 28, 2007)
Comments must be submitted no later than February 26, 2008

Government media release, January 2, 2008:
U.S. Climate Change Science Program Issues Revised Research Plan
Public Invited to Provide Comments

Instructions for Submission of Comments on Summary of Revised Research Plan

See our August 22, 2007, post, Court Rules that Bush Adminintration Unlawfully failed to produce Scientific Assessment of Global Change.

On August 21, 2007, Federal district court judge Sandra Brown Armstrong ruled that the Bush Administration violated the Global Change Research Act by failing to produce a national global change research plan that was due by July 2006, and a scientific assessment of global change impacts that was due in November 2004. The last scientific assessement, the U.S. National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, was submitted to Congress in November 2000. Climate Science Watch has long maintained that the Bush administration’s suppression of official use of the first National Assessment report and its termination of the national climate change assessment process for connecting scientists to policymakers and society is the central climate science scandal of the administration.

In her August 21, 2007, ruling in favor of Center for Biological Diversity et al., Judge Armstrong ordered the administration to produce both the research plan and the scientific assessment of global change impacts no later than the end of May 2008.

The court order said:

The GCRA mandates that “a revised Plan shall be submitted at least once every three years . . . .” 15 U.S.C. § 2934(a). The last Research Plan issued was in July 2003, and the defendants make no claim that a revised plan was submitted by July 2006, or since that time. The defendants have therefore unlawfully withheld action they are required to take—producing an updated National Global Research Plan at least every three years….

In addition, the defendants are in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 2936, which dictates that “On a periodic basis (not less frequently than every 4 years), the Council, through the Committee, shall prepare and submit to the President and the Congress [a Scientific] assessment.” It has been almost seven years since the last Scientific Assessment was published on October 31, 2000 and submitted to Congress in November 2000, triggering a due date for a subsequent Scientific Assessment in November 2004. Again, the defendants do not dispute this. The defendants have not adhered to the text of the statute or its mandates.

The Judge noted that the plaintiffs’ “requested relief includes an injunction compelling the defendants to produce the Research Plan and the Scientific Assessment by a date certain. They have suggested nine months from the date of the Court’s order.” The court order says: “As the Research Plan is now more than a year overdue, the Court ORDERS that a summary of the revised proposed Research Plan be published in the Federal Register no later than March 1, 2008, and that the proposed Research Plan itself be submitted to Congress not later than 90 days thereafter.”

In her order, the judge emphasized the importance of public consultation in developing the research plan. “The opportunity for public participation is in the Research Plan, limited or not, is a Congressional dictate,” the court order said.

The court also ordered that “the Scientific Assessment must in some manner integrate, evaluate, and interpret the public comments of the Research Plan.”

Declaration of CSW director Rick Piltz in the lawsuit filed against the administration by Center for Biological Diversity et al.

The National Research Council’s Committee on Strategic Advice on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program issued a report in September 2007—Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results—that raised key issues on which the climate science program needs to be reformed and upgraded—although the Academy chose not to point to the political level of the administration that is responsible for much of the current problem.

From the September 13, 2007, National Academy of Sciences media release about the report:

Climate change research directed by the federal government has made good progress in documenting and understanding temperature trends and related environmental changes on a global scale, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The ability to predict future climate changes also has improved, but efforts to understand the impact of such changes on society and analyze mitigation and adaptation strategies are still relatively immature, added the committee that wrote the report. Moreover, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), which oversees federal research in this area, has made inadequate progress in supporting decision making, studying regional impacts, and communicating with a wider group of stakeholders.

“CCSP, an important initiative that has broadened our knowledge of climate change, needs to package more of that knowledge for policymakers from the national to local level, and place more emphasis on understanding how people will be affected by climate change and how they might react,” said committee chair Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego….

Even where good scientific progress is being made, use of new knowledge to support decision making and risk analysis is proceeding slowly, according to the committee.  For instance, although CCSP’s temperature trends assessment was influential in this year’s report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 19 other synthesis and assessment products that were scheduled for release by now are still in production.

One way CCSP could bridge the gap between science and decision making would be to more closely examine the impact of climate change at regional and local scales, the report says.  More accurate models, better regional observations, and the development of impact scenarios will be required to improve predictions of how climate change will affect smaller spatial scales.

Better communication from CCSP also will be critical for confronting climate change at the local level.  CCSP should build upon the two-way dialogue envisioned in its strategic plan by engaging state and local officials, nongovernmental organizations, industry, and the climate change technology community.  This dialogue should go beyond communicating research results to asking what is needed from the program.  The committee acknowledged that more resources will be needed to bolster such relationships.

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