Analysis: Climate goals OK but not funded


BOULDER, Colo., July 24 (UPI) — There are no non-political reports about climate change, and no one will ever be satisfied, but the Bush administration’s new “Strategic Plan for the Climate Change Science Program” is a serious attempt to advance the scientific basis for policy decisions, despite a lack of important specifics, according to experts on both sides of the debate.

The report outlines proposed scientific goals in five areas of climate research:

–Improving knowledge and understanding of the Earth’s past and present climate and environment, including its natural variability;

–improving quantification of the forces bringing about changes in the Earth’s climate;

–reducing uncertainty in projections of how the Earth’s climate and related systems may change in the future;

–understanding the sensitivity and adaptability of different natural and managed ecosystems and human systems to climate and related global changes, and

–identifying the limits of evolving knowledge to manage risks related to climate variability.

Bill O’Keefe, president of the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington, D.C., who participated in one of the workshops convened in preparing the report, told United Press International the program will fill important gaps in information.

“Virtually all of the statements about climate change are based on hypotheses,” he said. “There is a tremendous lack of information and data. This calls for a focus on research where research would help us understand how the climate system works.” As this process moves forward, O’Keefe explained, it would create a scientific basis on which to make decisions, instead of speculation.

“This is a very broad and difficult topic, and I think the authors in the agencies did a good job, considering the difficulty of the task, the breadth of the topics and the relatively short amount of time in which they put it together,” Rick Anthes, president of the University Center for Atmospheric Research, the parent of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, told UPI.

“Much of it is very general and few specific action items are proposed,” he added. “Although the report sets out an ambitious plan for scientific research, the most glaring omission is no discussion of funding specifics and no estimate of cost,” Anthes added, saying the report mentions only that the program will be implemented by six different appropriation bills within the context of the federal budget cycle.

“How is this actually going to be implemented?” Anthes asked. “Are there going to be new resources? If it’s just a shuffling around of existing resources, not a lot will come of this. We need resources in the observing system and in the modeling area. If these resources aren’t forthcoming, we will continue to make progress at a very slow rate.

Anthes called the problem “enormously important,” and said, “If we’re spending a billion a day on Iraq, which is also important, then we ought to spend a few hundred million

a year on taking the pulse of the Earth.”

One thing the report does seem to indicate is the climate change issue appears to be forcing its way to the policy forefront, despite the administration’s lack of enthusiasm for the subject.

“Climate and climate variability play important roles in shaping the environment, natural resources, infrastructure, economy, and other aspects of life in all countries of the world,” the report states. “Potential human-induced changes in climate and related environmental systems, and the options proposed to adapt to or mitigate these changes, may also have substantial environmental, economic, and societal consequences.”

Anthes said he is “impressed that a document signed by officials at the highest levels of the administration would quote the June 2001 report that says very directly that greenhouse gases are accumulating, and that temperatures are in fact rising, most likely due to human activities.”

“The new climate plan represents “an open airing of views,” he said, “not sweeping global warming under the rug.”