United States National Climate Assessment 2013 now Open for Comment

A Thunderstorm in KenyaFrom past discussions of climate-smart agricultural landscapes, it is clear that mitigating and adapting to climate change is not simply a matter of having the most comprehensive scientific understanding, but also of connecting that technical base to policy and decision-making. Comparable to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United States Global Change Research Program is tasked with releasing a rigorous and balanced assessment on the state of climate change science and impacts in the United States. And like the IPCC reports, this National Climate Assessment (NCA) aims to make the science accessible in the larger social, ecological, and policy systems and to provide impartial information to set government priorities for climate investments.

The 2013 report is near completion. Broken down into chapters that thematically cover the full spectrum of sectors, the NCA draws together these various topics into broader discussions on land use, research priorities, and policy and decision-making. The Agriculture Chapter focuses primarily on impacts from climate change and the need for adaptation measures. It projects increasing stress to crops and livestock due to weeds, diseases, insect pests, weather extremes, and other climate change-induced stresses. Moreover, the impacts on domestic agriculture are expected to have consequences for food security not only in the U.S. but globally, through changes in crop yields and the ways climate affects food processing, storage, transportation, and retailing.

While there is a focus on sectoral implications, there is a concerted effort within the assessment to show how climate change affects not only individual sectors, but also their interactions. The Water, Energy, and Land Use Chapter emphasizes the connections between different systems, and stresses the importance of considering risks, vulnerabilities, and opportunities jointly. The Land Use and Land Cover Change Chapter synthesizes the findings of other chapters, as an issue that cuts across sectors and geographic regions. Choices about land-use and land-cover patterns are presented as integral to both mitigation and adaptation actions, while also affecting the vulnerability of human communities and ecosystems. The chapter examines the complexity of driving forces behind land use decisions, and the role of both individual decisions and government policy.

Ultimately, the recommendations of the assessment focus on enhancing knowledge of the intersection of human and natural systems in the context of climate change in order to most successfully inform policy development and decision-making. “Integrated research activities across sectoral, regional, and temporal scales” are called for in order to augment scientific understanding and respond to the needs of decision-makers at those multiple scales. Considering that the response of the U.S. to climate change mitigation and adaptation has significance on a global scale, these results have the potential for far-reaching implications for responding to climate change.

Currently, the 2013 assessment is open for public comment. Make sure to provide input by April 12, 2013. If you know of more discussion of the NCA that commentators should be aware of, share it in a comment below.

Photo credit: Matthew Zonis

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