A Look to the Next Decade: Research to Assist the Nation and the World in Responding to Global Change
Sarah Abdelrahim, Deputy Director, U.S. Global Change Research Program
Mike Kuperberg, Executive Director, U.S. Global Change Research Program
The signs of climate change are everywhere around us. Federal investments in science have helped us understand the nature climate change and its causes, and have helped guide responses at the global, national, and local scales. 32 years ago, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) was established by the Global Change Research Act (GCRA). The program was transformational, recognizing the breadth of agencies with global change research investments and ensuring coordination among them. For over three decades, USGCRP has significantly improved our understanding of climate change, making important data and scientific information available and accessible to people across the U.S. and around the world. Community planners use climate projections—supported by agencies like NOAA, DOE, NSF, and NASA—to understand how climate change will impact their homes and infrastructure. As climate change causes a shift in seasons, farmers use observational data and indicators from USDA, NOAA, DOI, and EPA to decide which crops to plant and when to plant. And, as a result of research collaborations between agencies like NOAA and HHS, medical professionals use information about changing patterns of disease vectors to adequately diagnose and treat patients.
Incorporating lessons learned over the years, and listening to the accelerating demand for more refined and specialized information to inform decisions, today, the USGCRP is releasing its Strategic Plan for the next decade (2022–2031). The Plan builds on the enormous knowledge base that USGCRP and others have constructed, while enabling new approaches, critical research, and the provision of actionable knowledge to a diversity of decision makers. The Plan is organized around four pillars: 1) Advancing Science, 2) Engaging the Nation, 3) Informing Decisions, and 4) Collaborating Internationally.
The Plan reflects a broader approach to research with increased emphasis on the importance of many disciplines and types of knowledge, including the social sciences and Indigenous Knowledge. While USGCRP has significantly advanced our knowledge on climate change over the years, the new Plan envisions advances in our knowledge of the interactions between climate change and other complex changes like nature loss. The Plan anticipates research investments in other societally-relevant scientific unknowns, such as the potential for abrupt, widespread, and sometimes irreversible, changes—otherwise known as tipping points. The Plan also looks to the evaluation of the effectiveness of response measures, which has huge potential to inform the actions that decision makers take.
The Plan demonstrates a growing understanding that global change affects everyone but doesn’t affect everyone equally. To address disparate impacts, USGCRP will better understand these disparate impacts, as well as how societal responses can address or exacerbate these disparities. This knowledge can be used by everyone—Federal program managers, community planners, and healthcare workers—to ensure we’re protecting our most vulnerable from global change impacts and working towards a more equitable future.
Engaging the Nation
Because global change impacts everyone, it takes a whole-of-society approach to understand global change, its impacts, and our responses. USGCRP will engage with a diversity of communities, including those on the frontlines of global change impacts. To advance and make available the science our nation needs, we also need a workforce that reflects our Nation’s diversity. USGCRP will lead and participate in efforts to build a more diverse and inclusive scientific workforce, which will strengthen the Federal global change research enterprise.
USGCRP will continue to make information more available and accessible, in ways that facilitate quick responses. For example, USGCRP will make its information available in ways that are easily customizable and applied by local decision makers. USGCRP also recognizes the importance of Indigenous Knowledge in responding to global change. Just last week, the Federal government released new government-wide guidance on Indigenous Knowledge in Federal research, policy, and decision-making, and USGCRP will build on this guidance. USGCRP will also build on its existing assessment activities, most recognizably the National Climate Assessment, through new products such as the National Nature Assessment.
Finally, global changes are not constrained to national borders and neither are the solutions. Collaboration between USGCRP and international partners is critical for effective responses. USGCRP will enhance collaborations with existing partners and develop new relationships to broaden international collaboration. USGCRP will also continue to support international assessment processes that are critical to policymakers around the world, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The new Plan presents a vision for the next decade; but USGCRP cannot achieve this vision alone. USGCRP looks forward to working with states, Tribes, and local communities; civil society; academia; the private sector; international organizations; and interested individuals from across the American Public. Global changes are complex and present major challenges to the Nation and the world. Over the next decade, USGCRP—in collaboration with others—will continue to build and refine understanding of global change in ways that respond to emerging needs and provide critical information for the benefit of all.