WASHINGTON — As it drafts its next decadal strategic plan, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) should shift its focus to providing insights that help society prepare for and avoid the worst potential consequences of climate change, while protecting the most vulnerable, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Traditional climate research that projects changes in the natural environment to estimate potential consequences is not meeting the needs of decision-makers as they respond to the climate crisis, the report says.

Global Change Research Needs and Opportunities for 2022-2031 recommends USGCRP accelerate research on the multidirectional relationships among human and natural systems to advance our understanding of how to manage urgent current and future climate risks. Our food availability, for example, depends on a complex interaction between natural systems, such as the carbon and water cycles, and aspects of human systems, such as population growth or farming practices.

The report calls on USGCRP to focus specifically on urgent climate risks to the security and well-being of Americans — including their health, food, energy, water, and economic security. Risk management should emphasize protecting the most vulnerable and addressing the underlying drivers of vulnerability, particularly inequity and exclusion.

USGCRP is an interagency program that is mandated to coordinate research across 13 federal agencies. Research fostered by USGCRP has shaped our understanding of climate change, and represents an unprecedented effort to observe, understand, predict, and project global changes. The committee that wrote the report is tasked with advising USGCRP as it begins development of its next decadal plan, due to be completed in 2022.

“The time has come to urgently increase our country’s investment in global change research to produce knowledge that is more useful for decision-makers leading the response to the climate crisis,” said committee chair Jerry Melillo, distinguished scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory. “Today’s decisions require research that considers the global, intricate relationship between society and the natural world, as well as the effects of our response to climate change.”

“Shifting to this new frame of thinking about risk will require that global change research prioritize justice, work with communities to produce this research, increase transparency, and be flexible and adaptive to new findings,” added Kristie L. Ebi, vice chair of the committee and professor in the department of global health and the department of environmental and occupational health sciences, University of Washington.


Originally published by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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