Bush Administration Launches Climate Research Plan

Published September 1, 2003

The Bush administration on July 24 announced an unprecedented 10-year research plan to better understand how, and to what extent, human activity may be affecting the Earth’s climate.

The new initiative brings together the resources and expertise of 13 federal agencies and is the result of months of consultations with scientists, policy experts, and nongovernmental organizations who make up the federal government’s Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). It reflects an outreach to some 1,200 scientists and representatives of more than 35 countries.

As part of the initiative, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans announced a $103 million two-year federal initiative to accelerate the deployment of new global observation technologies. The initiative will provide data to improve scientists’ understanding of global climate change and their ability to apply that knowledge toward effective solutions.

“The Bush administration has brought total government spending on climate change-related programs to $4.5 billion,” said Evans. “This critical investment … will accelerate select high-priority research projects and climate observations that will help us fill critical knowledge gaps.”

Core Principles

According to Evans, five core principles will guide the research plan:

  • Adopt a measured approach based on the best science.
  • Remain flexible and able to adapt to new discoveries and technology.
  • Leverage the power of markets and technological innovation.
  • Ensure global participation.
  • Ensure continued economic growth.

Proponents say the plan will result in a better understanding of climate variability, the potential response of the climate system (and related human and environmental systems) to human-induced changes in atmospheric and surface temperatures, and the implications of these potential changes and management options for natural environments.

Scientific Goals

Central to the research plan are five overarching scientific goals aimed at addressing key questions and uncertainties:

  • Extend knowledge of the Earth’s past and present climate and environment, including its natural variability, and improve understanding of the causes of observed changes.
  • Improve understanding of the forces bringing about changes in the Earth’s climate and related systems.
  • Reduce uncertainty in projections of how the Earth’s climate and environmental systems may change in the future.
  • Understand the sensitivity and adaptability of different natural and managed systems to climate and associated global changes.
  • Explore the uses and identify the limits of evolving knowledge to manage risks and opportunities related to climate variability and change.

“Right Direction”

“We support President Bush’s emphasis on scientific research, and the broad goals of this plan look like they’ll set government research in the right direction,” said Myron Ebell, director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI).

“While the outline of the plan is encouraging,” he continued, “we hope the full text of the report doesn’t give away too much to the alarmist camp, as previous Bush documents have done. A research plan is no place to try to placate political opponents.”

“For far too long,” added CEI Senior Fellow Chris Horner, “federally funded global warming research has been a tool of alarmist ideologues bent on convincing policy makers that human-induced climate change requires drastic government intervention, whatever the status of the science itself. Through misleading summaries of technical studies and omission of conflicting evidence, previous studies have been intentionally crafted to support the alarmist position.”

James R. Mahoney, assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and director of CCSP, stated, “This plan leverages existing knowledge to learn new things, builds bridges across communities and scientific disciplines to gain greater insight, reaches out to decision-makers to put knowledge into action.

“We are committed to maintaining an open and transparent process to ensure that our partners are heard and we hear them,” Mahoney continued. “It stakes out new scientific ground in the area of climate-change modeling and observations and promises to adapt to new technology and discoveries.”

Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, applauded the plan. “I highly commend Jim Mahoney for his insistence on soliciting the widest possible scientific input into the U.S. government’s important Strategic Plan for Climate Change Science.

“As our government sets national priorities for global change research, it is critical that it have access to leading scientists. I am of course especially pleased,” acknowledged Alberts, “that he has asked the National Academies to conduct an open, high quality review of both the draft and revised versions of the Strategic Plan. Our committee, chaired by Thomas Graedel of Yale University, has already reviewed the draft strategic plan, working to provide constructive advice for its revision.

“This committee will continue to provide useful guidance to the Climate Change Science Program from a group of the nation’s best scientists,” Alberts pledged.

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

A four-page executive summary of the Climate Change Science Program Strategic Plan is available through PolicyBot, as is a 41-page report, Vision for the Program and Highlights of the Scientific Strategic Plan. Point your Web browser to http://www.heartland.org, click on the PolicyBot icon, and search for documents #12638 and #12621, respectively.

Further information, including the complete 364-page text of the Strategic Plan, is available on the CCSP Web site at http://www.climatescience.gov/.

Testimony about the CCSP program, delivered by Heartland Institute President Joseph L. Bast in January 2003, is available on the Heartland Web site at http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=11477.