Budget cuts loom as the U.S. launches a National Climate Assessment

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Source: USGCRP, Climate Change Impacts in the United States (2009)

In a process that will extensively engage Americans around the country, the National Climate Assessment will produce a landmark report on the impacts of climate change on the U.S. However, from the outset, budget cuts threaten the effort. The federal advisory committee charged with developing the report held its first meeting in Washington, DC, this week, a short distance from Capitol Hill, where deep budget cuts are proposed by Congressional Republicans for federal climate-related activities.

Earlier CSW post:  National Climate Assessment team convenes in Washington, DC, to begin producing a major new assessment due in 2013 (April 7)

The following is reposted and slightly condensed from the World Wildlife Fund climate blog:

With Budget Cuts Looming, U.S. Launches National Climate Assessment

Published by Nick Sundt on Fri, 04/08/2011

A U.S. Federal advisory committee concluded on Wednesday (6 April 2011) a three-day meeting marking the formal launch of the National Climate Assessment. In a process that will extensively engage Americans around the country, the assessment will produce a draft landmark report on the impacts of climate change on the U.S. for public review during the latter part of 2012 and a final report by mid 2013.  However, from the outset, budget cuts threaten the effort. …

In a joint letter to the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee [PDF, dtd 31 March 2011], WWF's Managing Director for Climate Change Lou Leonard joined representatives of four other organizations in saying that the assessment "presents a great opportunity to make the implications of climate change understandable and accessible to every American, and to stimulate a national dialogue that can lead to effective action. Unless Americans are better informed about the actual and potential impacts of climate change, they are unlikely to prepare for those impacts and to otherwise respond to the threat." Others signing the letter were Rick Piltz of Climate Science Watch, Mike MacCracken of the Climate Institute, Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity and Kert Davies of Greenpeace. …

Budget Cuts Will Constrain Assessment

The NCADAC meeting was held a short distance from Capitol Hill where deep budget cuts are proposed by Congressional Republicans for federal climate-related activities.  The proposed cuts could result in an extended timeline for the NCA and a substantially diminished effort. Yet the 2007 National Research Council report, Analysis of Global Change Assessments, said “it is necessary to have adequate funding that is both commensurate with the mandate and effectively managed to ensure an efficient Assessment process.” 

More recently, the report of the NCA Strategic Planning Workshop (24-25 February 2010, Chicago, Illinois) concluded:

"Unless resource availability issues are clarified in the near term, development of the National Assessment will be very constrained...The magnitude of the overall investment in the Assessment, even a highly constrained version, will far exceed the current shared budget [for the USGCRP Coordination Office and other jointly funded initiatives of the program] by at least one order of magnitude...[T]he scale of the Assessment will depend in large part on what resources are available."

"In addition to the planning challenges ahead, we must be mindful of the funding challenges," acknowledged Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, in her opening remarks to this week's meeting.  "Anyone who has followed the news knows how difficult the federal budgeting process has been for FY11.  Although the President identified specific resources in the FY11 and FY12 budgets to support the work of this committee, we currently continue to operate under continuing resolutions. This is the budgetary reality."

Despite the acknowledged importance of both the assessment and adequate funding for the effort, there are no publicly disclosed estimates of what is needed for key elements of the assessment and what the implications will be of budget shortfalls.  In their joint letter to the NCADAC, WWF's Lou Leonard and the other co-signers said:

 "The NCADAC should provide timely and accurate information about the funding and other resources (e.g., in-kind services, contributions from outside sources, etc.) being made available for organizing the regional and sectoral workshops and other major elements of the assessment process, and about any budget shortfalls that are compromising the NCA or threatening to delay its completion beyond June 2013."

Among the other issues highlighted by the letter are the importance of:

  • a permanent assessment process "needed for sustained national preparation for the intensifying changes in climate that lie ahead."
  • an open and transparent process
  •  extensive public and stakeholder engagement, especially at the regional levels
  • meeting the statutory deadline of June 2013 for submitting the report to the President and Congress
  • a "publicly available, credible roadmap of activities and milestones for producing the report."
  • maintaining the integrity and independence of the assessment process and related communications efforts

The letter concludes: 

"We welcome the upcoming opportunities we will have to contribute to the NCA and to communicate its findings. We will work to provide critical and independent support, by challenging both Congress and the Administration to ensure that the assessment process is fully developed, and that useful and up-to-date information is made available to and used effectively by leaders at all levels of government and the public to ensure that the United States is in the best possible position to prepare for and respond to the increasing risks and impacts of climate change."

Online Resources:

Letter to National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee (dtd 31 March 2011) from Lou Leonard (WWF), Rick Piltz (Climate Science Watch), Kert Davies (Greenpeace), Kassie Siegel (Center for Biological Diversity), and Mike MacCracken (Climate Institute).

National Climate Assessment Web site. 

NCA Background Information:

Meeting Agenda and Documents.

Department of Commerce appoints and convenes first Climate Assessment Advisory Committee meeting. Press release from NOAA.

Several regional papers presented at the meeting:

NCA workshop reports:

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