Administration Releases Climate Change Research Strategic Plan

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Publication date: 
29 July 2003

Commerce Secretary Don Evans, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and OSTP Director John Marburger were among a panel of senior Bush Administration officials who released the "Strategic Plan for the Climate Change Science Program" at a July 24 briefing. Presented as the Administration's outline for the conduct of research into climate change, and not as a policy document, the report sets forth a lengthy series of research goals over the next ten years to guide and coordinate the activities of thirteen federal departments and agencies. The document, a year in the making, is billed as "the first comprehensive update of a strategic plan for U.S. global change and climate change research since the original plan for the U.S. Global Change Research Program was adopted at the inception of the program in 1989."

The 360-page strategic plan is not quick reading. As befitting the complexity of the subject, the report's sixteen chapters describe in some detail the research needed to inform future policy decisions. The chapter on Atmospheric Composition, for example, outlines five questions such as, "What are the climate-relevant chemical, microphysical, and optical properties, and spatial and temporal distributions, of human-caused and naturally occurring aerosols?" For each of the chapter's five questions the report summarizes in four pages the State of Knowledge; Illustrative Research Questions; Research Needs; and Milestones, Products, and Payoffs.

Abraham characterized the new plan as "far reaching," and said that "the science program will find the answers" to many unresolved questions about climate change. He stressed DOE research programs that could ultimately reduce greenhouse gases, including those in hydrogen, clean coal, carbon sequestration, and fusion. Evans said that "the solution ultimately is technology," and said that "America is leading" the research on climate change. Evans said the amount of money the United States spends on climate change is more than Europe and Japan combined, and described an Administration-hosted international conference later this week on a proposed $100 million plus global observation system to be developed over the next ten years. Evans concluded his remarks by characterizing criticism of the Administration's actions as "superficial."

Marburger repeated that the U.S. "is a leader in climate science," and characterized as "remote" and "difficult" climate science issues. Energy Under Secretary Bob Card called the preparation of the plan, which involved external reviews and a public comment process, open and transparent. "We're going after as much reduction as we can," Card said of greenhouse gases.

NOAA Under Secretary James Mahoney, Director of the Climate Chance Science Program, spoke at length. Citing the "massive" investment of time and funding in the program, Mahoney characterized the effort as a paradigm changing process, and said "these are very big bets." He outlined how the public provided input into the designing of the strategic plan, including a conference last December drawing 1,300 participants, and 270 sets of later written comments. Mahoney spoke of a "very special commitment to full transparency." A second review of the plan by the National Research Council will be issued in late 2003. The plan, he said, encompasses four approaches: advancing science, observation and data management, developing policy maker decision support resources and improved communication methods. Mahoney predicted that the strategic plan will result in a much better sense of the meaning of research findings.

In a question-and-answer session, Commerce Deputy Secretary Sam Bodman was asked what policy options might result from this work, such as Kyoto-type caps on emissions. "Anything is possible," Bodman said. "I would not put limits on anything that might come out of this if it is warranted." Policy might result from some of the research that is scheduled to be completed in as little as two years, he said. More than twenty synthesis and assessment reports will be prepared in the next four years. Bodman added that "this is a science document . . . an intellectually sound document." He insisted that the "politics" of climate change was not a major concern.

The 360-page Strategic Plan, a 34-page synopsis, and a four-page Executive Summary can be viewed at

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