Little funding for study of climate change impacts

October 12, 2008 at 6:03 pm | Posted in Climate science funding, Climate science research | Leave a comment
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According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report, the earth’s average surface temperature will very likely increase by 2 to 11.5 degrees over the next century.

Knowing this range for average surface temperature, though, doesn’t give people a whole lot of information to go on about the future.  In the first place, it’s a range, and small differences in degrees can change what plants will grow well in a region. 

Add in the fact that projections for future precipitation have an even wider span, in part because of climate models’ inability to deal with clouds very well, and the unknowns multiply even more.  Not to mention that changes in climate will likely manifest differently by region. 

So, the question remains: what will climate change mean? And how do we prepare for it if we don’t understand what it will look like?

It’s a question that a story in the most recent issue of the journal Science reports has been neglected by the Bush administration. 

According to the article, roughly 75 percent of the funding administered by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program has been directed at basic climate science. Climate change impacts and adaptation, meanwhile, receive the remaining 25 percent, which came to about $300 million in 2008.

“They said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not there on the question of detection and attribution,’ ” says Richard Moss, who ran the Climate Change Science Program until 2006. “There was far less of a shift in the program than [we had proposed].”

William Brennan, the current CCSP director, says the lopsided emphasis within CCSP on characterizing global climate change over identifying impacts reflects “our state of [scientific] understanding.” But the NRC study said the U.S. program lacks the investment in data or modeling capabilities to forecast how warming might create feedbacks, such as carbon released from warming soils or methane from melting tundra. – “Impacts Research Seen As Next Climate Frontier,” By Eli Kintisch

The U.S. National Research Council (NRC), an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report about the program in September 2007. It concluded that not enough has been done to provide local officials with information to help them prepare for climate change.

The Climate Change Science Program directs climate research in the U.S., but it has little actual authority over how research money is spent. While it may make recommendations, the 13 government agencies involved in climate research have final say about their own budget expenditures.  

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