By: Eric S. Lander, PhD
The President’s Science Advisor and
Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy
Richard W. Spinrad, PhD
Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency
Every day, Americans make decisions that affect their resilience to climate change. How much water will their crops or livestock need this year? How high should a bridge be built to withstand future flooding over the next 50 to 100 years? Where should they purchase a home without worrying about the risks of wildfire or storm surge to their property? Should they contact their child’s football coach about policies for keeping players cool on extremely hot days? For how many years into the future will sea ice be safe to hunt on? Where should solar and wind energy infrastructure be sited so as to maximize production while minimizing wildlife conflicts?
Past Federal investments in climate science have provided foundational knowledge that allows us to understand the changes currently underway and to anticipate those to come. However, the urgency of the climate crisis, summarized most recently by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), demands an even greater effort, both to deliver new knowledge about key unknowns and also to do a better job of providing existing knowledge and information to the public and decision makers so they can put it to use to support planning, policies, and action. This latter goal depends upon the provision of “climate services,” which are scientifically-based data, information, products and tools that enhance users’ knowledge and understanding about likely future conditions and impacts of climate change on potential decisions and actions.
Today, our offices released a report in response to President Biden’s Executive Order 14008, Section 211d, part one, which called on us to identify opportunities for expanding and improving climate information to better enable the public to prepare for climate change. This report outlines a vision for advancing the development, communication, and accessibility of climate services through a whole-of-government approach, including close collaboration between science providers and science users. This includes interactions across agencies and interactions between agencies and communities, businesses, and others. The development and provision of usable climate services will enhance planning across timescales, from weeks to decades into the future, and inform and support actions to reduce future climate change and associated impacts.
Meeting this challenge requires significant new scientific efforts, partnerships with the private sector and academia, and sustained engagement with diverse information users to align climate services with decision needs. Both public and private sectors need timely, easy-to-find, understandable climate services at decision-relevant scales to assess vulnerability and inform actions to enhance resilience and reduce future climate change. Every community, especially those who have been historically underserved and suffer disproportionately from climate impacts, needs climate information and services, as well as technical support and capacity to inform planning and action.
Our report outlines a plan to work across agencies and with information users and partners to:
• Develop the robust set of actionable climate services that meet the needs of a diversity of users;
• Design and implement effective tools and equitable delivery mechanisms for climate services;
• Leverage the respective capabilities of Federal and private sector partners to spur innovation to create climate services that reach all communities; and
• Implement ambitious science and technology initiatives to better understand key unknowns about climate change and how people use services to continually improve and expand knowledge, engagement, and education, bolstering the effectiveness of service capabilities.
Rising to this challenge will require sustained and coordinated engagement – as well as periodic evaluation and adjustment – to ensure that Federal agencies and our partners develop climate services that are trusted, useful, and used by decision makers and the public.
Along with our efforts to accelerate the reduction of global emissions, and prepare for and adapt to the current and future impacts of climate change, we must also consciously and strategically improve and expand climate services to empower all Americans with the science that they need to take action.