CSW weighs in with NOAA advisory board on criteria for forming a National Climate Service


Climate Science Watch is attending NOAA’s Science Advisory Board meetings this week to learn the results of a lengthy planning process for defining the agency’s role in helping communities better anticipate and plan for climate disruption by providing “climate services,” and to offer our advice in the form of public comment.  Yesterday, in the five minutes allotted to us for public input, we emphasized that a National Climate Service, should one be created, must be:  (a)  solutions-oriented and driven by the needs of regional, state and local decision-makers; (b)  inclusive of other federal and nonfederal entities with relevant capabilities;  (c)  be coordinated and led by a dedicated, full-time staff in the White House;  (d)  avoid duplicating the functions of other programs such as the Climate Change Science Program;  (e) have strong oversight by stakeholders (i.e. the users of climate services); and (f)  incorporate robust mechanisms for preserving the scientific integrity of the program.  See details….

post by Anne Polansky

The Science Advisory Board (SAB) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is meeting this week in Silver Spring, MD to engage in strategic planning for the agency and to consider reports from several of its working groups, including a coordinating committee of the Climate Working Group, chaired by Eric Barron, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.  Over the past six months, four different “tiger teams” have been deliberating four options for creating a National Climate Service:

• Create a national climate service federation that would determine how to deliver climate services to the nation
• Create a non-profit corporation with federal sponsorship
• Create a national climate service with NOAA as the lead agency with specifically defined partners
• Expand and improve weather services into weather and climate services within NOAA

See our earlier post;

Plans are underway to create a National Climate Service – But what does that mean, exactly?

The Center for Clean Air Policy also made public comments along the same lines as ours (we are partnering with CCAP as part of our National Climate Planning and Preparedness Project). 

CSW has obtained and reviewed a copy of the report from the Climate Working Group to the SAB, “Options for Developing a National Climate Service,”—expected to be presented and released in today’s SAB sessions by Eric Barron—which offers basic recommendations and explores both the “pros” and the “cons” associated with each of the four options.  In our view, the most compelling case in this paper is made for the second option, to create a non-profit entity outside the federal government that would be able to receive federal funds.  The report lists elements that, taken together, offer the closest thing to what we have envisioned is needed to raise the level of national preparedness for climate change impacts: 

• An agile, responsive, and adaptive organization whose primary function is connecting climate science with decision making.

• Provides and manages a process for multiple modes of engagement of users, private sectors, public (local, state, regional, federal, tribal) agencies, research communities, and non-governmental organizations.

• Fosters innovation, entrepreneurship and partnerships.

• Is an information hub, harvesting the science in an additional effort that leverages but does not replace existing federal climate science and technology investments (e.g. CCSP and others).

• Mines the talent in a variety of external networks and federal agencies and focuses that talent on development and delivery of decision relevant information products.

• Addresses both a long-term strategy as well as satisfying near term requests

• Has an ongoing mechanism for feedback of research priorities to the federal science programs.

• Provides streamlined, effective and efficient contractual and intellectual property agreements.

• Provides a built in evaluation and assessment process that allows the organization to constantly refresh its processes and its products while continuing to provide high quality climate services. This would ensure easy access and usability.

• Builds capacity for incorporating science into climate sensitive decisions.

• Nurtures a virtual network of regional, local, international, and sectoral expertise.

The lead article in Climate Wire today (subscription) talks about the Climate Working Group’s report and mirrors some of our thinking.  The article acknowledges that the report “doesn’t officially favor one approach” but “seems to lean toward creating a federally sponsored nonprofit corporation [option #2] or a new ‘national climate service federation’ of regional groups of ‘climate information providers’ [option #1] which it says is likely to create a ‘stronger connection to users and the research community.’”  The article also highlights the concerns expressed in the report that “carving a National Climate Service out of existing federal agencies has its own disadvantages,” including the potential for “inter-agency rivalries.”  Our experience with the governance of the interagency US Global Change Research Program (Climate Change Science Program) is that such rivalries and the tendency for agencies to favor competition over true cooperation can severely compromise the strength of the overall mission.  The CCSP is in need of revitalization and reform, in large part due to this failure to engage in true collaboration:  a full discussion of the reforms needed are described in an excellent report recently released by the National Academy of Sciences,  Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change.  Any new National Climate Service should not try to take on the current roles and responsibilities of the CCSP (such as Earth observations, modeling, and even vulnerability/impacts assessments), but rather should focus on applying the scientific products of the CCSP and the IPCC to real-world problem anticipation and solving in a climate-disrupted world. 

Option number four, to establish a National Climate Service based on the model of a National Weather Service, while seemingly more simple to create, may be a necessary direction to go in, but wouldn’t be a sufficient solution in and of itself.  The report acknowledges that NOAA “is not well-suited to the development of a unified climate services function,” and suggests that NOAA would have to reorganize itself to better integrate its own weather and climate functions.  Clearly, NOAA does not possess the full set of capabilities and skill sets needed to deal with the full range of climate change impacts.  And, regardless of the path taken, progress towards raising national preparedness for climate disruption should not be held hostage to agency reorganizations, which are generally time-intensive and costly. 

To add substantive value to this deliberative process, CSW is partnering with the Center for Clean Air Policy and The Keystone Center to host an online dialogue later this month to help flesh out the question of whether and how to create a National Climate Service that would best serve the interests society.  The results of this effort will be communicated to NOAA Administrator Lubchenco (if we can ever get her confirmed!) and others in the Obama Administration.  Stay tuned…..

This entry was posted in Climate Change Preparedness. Bookmark the permalink.