White House Science Office reactivating U.S. National Assessment of Climate Change

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Katharine Jacobs, who chairs the forthcoming National Academy of Sciences report on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change, is moving to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to play a lead role on climate change assessment and adaptation. OSTP is taking the first steps to reactivate the National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts, nine years after the first National Assessment was issued, then later essentially suppressed by the Bush Administration.

We heard Jacobs give a very good presentation on Capitol Hill January 8 as part of a first-rate panel on Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation, co-sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the American Meteorological Society (AMS), the Ecological Society of America (ESA), and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

We learned at this event that Jacobs, currently a professor at the University of Arizona, will be the Office of Science and Technology Policy Assistant Director for Climate Change and Assessment (or something close to this; this is a new position that does not require Senate confirmation), with a focus on climate change adaptation issues.  We understand her office will be located nearby within the U.S. Global Change Research Program Office, and that she will play an essential role in planning for a new National Assessment to be completed in 2013, pursuant to a requirement of the Global Change Research Act.

We strongly support the appointment of Jacobs to this new position, and what it suggests about a stepped-up White House focus on impacts and adaptive preparedness. She brings to the table long experience and expertise on both water research and water resources management, and with the issues of climate change impacts on water.  Her talk on January 8 exemplified a solid ability to communicate and frame scientifically based issues in a policy-relevant context. 

As for the National Assessment, those familiar with the Climate Science Watch project and this web site will know that we have been among the most outspoken critics of the suppression of the first National Assessment by the Bush-Cheney Administration, and have continually called for the reactivating and updating of the National Assessment process as an ongoing activity of the U.S. Government in the 21st century. 

Bio information:

For the last 6 years Katharine L. Jacobs has been a professor in the University of Arizona, Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science and Deputy Director and Associate Director of the NSF Center for Sustainability of Arid Region Hydrology and Riparian Areas at the University of Arizona.  From 2006 through 2009, Jacobs was the Executive Director of the Arizona Water Institute, a consortium of the three state universities focused on water-related research, education and technology transfer in support of water supply sustainability. She has more than twenty years of experience as a water manager for the state of Arizona Department of Water Resources, including 14 years as director of the Tucson Active Management Area.  Her research interests include water policy, connecting science and decision-making, stakeholder engagement, use of climate information for water management applications, climate change adaptation and drought planning.  Ms. Jacobs earned her M.L.A. in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley.  She has served on eight National Research Council panels, most recently chairing the Americas Climate Choices panel on Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change.

In written testimony submitted to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming for the committee’s December 2, 2009, hearing on the state of climate science, John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said:

The next national assessment mandated by Section 106 of the 1990 Global Change Research Act is due in 2013. The vision for this climate change assessment is in a formative stage, but will include sustained, extensive stakeholder involvement to ensure full regional and sectoral coverage. It may also include targeted, scientifically rigorous reports that assess mitigation and adaptation strategies and their interactions. The best decisions about these strategies will emerge when there is widespread understanding of the complex issue of climate change—especially the science and its many implications for our nation.

The lessons learned from the previous assessment activities provide the main ingredients and structure for this next assessment. Understanding climate change impacts and adaptation requires a bottom-up approach—identifying impacts in a specific place or within an economic or industrial sector and aggregating information to larger scales. Therefore, the assessment, implemented through interagency efforts, will include workshops and studies that focus on regions and sectors, as well as a national synthesis component. OSTP is working with agencies and the USGCRP team to develop the scope and plan for the assessment due in early January.

The Conference Report on H.R.3288, the omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010, signed by bthe President on December 16, 2009, included this language on the appropriation for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: 

Climate research.—The conference agreement provides $221,040,000 for climate research. Within the recommendation, the conferees provide $9,000,000 for climate assessment services to synthesize, evaluate and report on climate change research findings; evaluate the effects of climate variability and change for different regions and sectors; and identify climate vulnerabilities and uncertainties as part of an ongoing effort to understand what climate change means for the United States.

Although the text does not specifically use the term, it is close enough to suggest that the $9 million appropriation is intended to fund work on a new National Assessment.

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