Our Changing Planet FY 1995


President Clinton's Earth Day announcement on April 21, 1993 stated that "We must take the lead in addressing the challenge of global warming." In October 1993, President Clinton and Vice President Gore announced the release of the Climate Change Action Plan to demonstrate U.S. commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to their 1990 levels by the year 2000. During 1993, President Clinton also signed the Convention on Biological Diversity, and his administration is actively working on negotiations of international agreements on desertification and forestry.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), along with other programs within the newly formed Committee on Environment and Natural Resources Research (CENR), provides the research and information needs underpinning efforts to move toward a sustainable and environmentally sound future (see figure). The USGCRP was formalized through the Global Change Research Act, which was adopted by the U.S. Congress in 1990, establishing a research program "aimed at understanding and responding to global change, including the cumulative effects of human activities and natural processes on the environment, [and] to promote discussions toward international protocols in global change research..." To meet these needs, the Clinton Administration is recommending a focused Global Change Research Program budget of $1.8 billion for FY 1995. These funds will support a wide range of policy-relevant research programs by the United States, providing a major contribution to worldwide global change research efforts.

Research on global change is vital to the national interest. As Dr. John Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology, recently stated in testimony to Congress, "... our international policy experiences over the past few years have amply demonstrated that U.S. global change interests are inexorably linked to our economic welfare and national security, and domestic and foreign policy considerations, and in many cases through formal international treaties and agreements."

What is Global Change?

Global change is a term intended to encompass the full range of global issues and interactions concerning natural and human-induced changes in the Earth's environment. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 defines global change as "changes in the global environment (including alterations in climate, land productivity, oceans or other water resources, atmospheric chemistry, and ecological systems) that may alter the capacity of the Earth to sustain life." Global change issues include understanding and predicting the causes and impacts of, and potential responses to: long-term climate change and greenhouse warming; changes in atmospheric ozone and ultraviolet (UV) radiation; and natural climate fluctuations over seasonal to interannual time periods. Other related global issues include desertification, deforestation, land use management, and preservation of ecosystems and biodiversity.

Why is Global Change Research Important?

The USGCRP provides scientific insight into the causes and effects of changes in the Earth system, especially those related to human activities, and is developing tools for assessing options for responding to global change. The Program supports investments in Earth-system science and research to help develop and evaluate the options for increasing the sustainability of human communities and protecting the environment. As the depth of understanding of these systems and their feedback grows, the research results provide increasingly valuable input to support national and international policy formulation, as well as input to evaluate the impacts and effectiveness of these decisions. Thus, long-term commitment to a research program in global change provides the foundation for understanding and evaluating the changing world, and at the same time encourages wise decisions for the future of the nation and the international community.

What Does the U.S. Global Change Research Program Do?

Major foci of the USGCRP are: to observe and record what is happening to the Earth's environment; to understand why changes are occurring; to improve predictions of what will happen; to understand the consequences of change; and to develop capabilities for assessing change. Since its inception, the USGCRP has focused most intensely on:

Observing Supporting land-, ocean- and space-based systems for observing global change:
Data Developing worldwide data management and archiving systems and enhancing data accessibility;
Research Supporting research on Earth system processes to improve the understanding of the most important physical, biological, and chemical processes that influence the global system; and
Models Supporting the development of integrative Earth system models for predicting the magnitude, timing, and extent of global change.

In response to new insights on the complexities of global change, the Program is expanding its efforts that are directed towards:

Global Analyzing the impacts and consequences of global change on the environment and on society; and
Policy Developing tools for assessing national and international policies and options for responding to global change.

The USGCRP is organized under the auspices of the Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR) of the National Science and Technology Council's (NSTC) Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources Research (CENR) [which has replaced the Committee on Earth and Environmental Sciences (CEES)]. Eighteen agencies, departments, and Executive Offices of the United States Government have joined together to plan and implement the USGCRP (Appendix D).

The USGCRP has been a major contributor to international scientific research on global change through support of international programs such as the World Climate Research Programme and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. To strengthen the worldwide research effort, the U.S. also participates in numerous bilateral and multilateral research activities, including the establishment of regional research institutes, with the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research beginning operations in 1994. The USGCRP joins organizations in other countries in providing scientific information for international science assessments, including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Ozone Assessments of the World Meteorological Organization. In 1993, the USGCRP began to develop capabilities for conducting integrated assessments of global change and its consequences, with increased emphasis on understanding the social dimensions and economic implications of global change.

During the first half of 1994, the USGCRP will prepare a ten-year research plan, as called for in the Global Change Research Act. This new research plan will detail the integrated, interagency strategy that underlies the wide range of activities sponsored by the program and propose new areas for emphasis. Since the last major research plan was submitted with the FY 1991 budget, understanding of how the global system can be influenced by the use of fossil fuels, changes in land use (including deforestation), and release of industrial chemicals has increased. In the 1994 Research Plan, more emphasis will be placed on characterizing the nature and scope of global changes, what the magnitude and significance of changes will be, and what decision tools are needed to evaluate the choices that are available to adapt to and mitigate potential changes.

The new plan will reflect this broadening in focus, recommending expanded research efforts that improve understanding of the environmental and socio-economic consequences of global change and helping to explore the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches and policies for dealing with global change. The plan will also propose mechanisms (e.g., milestones) for measuring the progress of the integrated set of agency programs in addressing the science and policy questions critical to the USGCRP. In preparing this plan, the SGCR will be seeking input and review from national and international policy and research communities, from the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. Government, from industry, and from public and private interest groups.

What are the United States and the International Community Doing About Global Change?

The U.S. Government is working with other nations to address the issues associated with global change. The U.S. is one of many nations that have signed and ratified the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and subsequent amendments, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Convention on Biodiversity. Along with other countries, the U.S. is working to develop other international agreements on desertification and the protection of forests. President Clinton's announcement on April 21, 1993, committed the United States to return greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000, and the release in October of the U.S. Climate Change Action Plan indicated how the U.S. intends to accomplish this. The U.S. is also developing long-term economic and technology-based strategies to enable progress to continue on greenhouse gas reductions into the next century.

To look more broadly at global environmental change, the Clinton Administration has established the National Council on Sustainable Development, whose members include senior representatives from within and outside the U.S. Government. The President is also proposing revised regulations and supporting legislation to preserve old-growth forests, to better care for government-owned range lands, and to ensure preservation of wetlands, while continuing to promote a growing economy. Thinking and researching globally while acting regionally and nationally, this Administration is looking toward a sustainable future for the people and the environment of the U.S. and the world.

Through the development of regional institutes such as the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research, the SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training (START), and the U.S. Country Studies initiative, the USGCRP is working with developing countries on vulnerability assessments and defining options for responding to global change. The U.S. Government is refocusing foreign aid assistance to encourage the promotion of sustainable technologies, such as those related to renewable energy.

The USGCRP agencies are committed to a research program that can provide information for national and international policy formulation. To strengthen the science/policy linkage, the USGCRP is intensifying efforts to improve communication with decision makers and to identify those information needs that have the most significant implications for near-term policy development. The USGCRP is increasing support for researchin the areas of: social, economic, health, and policy sciences; understanding the interactions of terrestrial ecosystems with global change; understanding and predicting the environmental impacts of global change; and developing tools for conducting assessments of global change. In addition to focused USGCRP research activities, contributing research is directed toward developing more efficient and cost-effective technologies for energy, transportation, manufacturing, environmental controls, and information transfer (see figure).

This report provides background information on the most critical issues in global change, outlines the framework that is used to develop policy-relevant information, highlights how the USGCRP contributes to this expanding knowledge base, and describes international linkages and education and public outreach efforts. Appendices present agency-by-agency budget information (A and B), a listing of acronyms (C), USGCRP subcommittee members (D), and USGCRP management and implementation (E).

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