Consensus Report

Advancing the Science of Climate Change (2010)


Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change

Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change

Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change

A five-video series on the America's Climate Choices project

A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems, concludes this panel report from the America's Climate Choices suite of studies. As decision makers respond to these risks, the nation's scientific enterprise can contribute both by continuing to improve understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change, and by improving and expanding the options available to limit the magnitude of climate change and adapt to its impacts. To make this possible, the nation needs a comprehensive, integrated, and flexible climate change research enterprise that is closely linked with action-oriented programs at all levels.

The report recommends that a single federal entity or program be given the authority and resources to coordinate a national research effort integrated across many disciplines and aimed at improving both understanding and responses to climate change. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, established in 1990, could fulfill this role, but it would need to form partnerships with action-oriented programs and address weaknesses in its current program. A comprehensive climate observing system, improved climate models and other analytical tools, investment in human capital, and better linkages between research and decision making are also essential to a complete understanding of climate change.

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Key Messages

  • A single federal interagency program or other entity should be given the authority and resources to coordinate and implement an integrated research effort that supports improving both understanding of and responses to climate change. If several key modifications are made, the U.S. Global Change Research Program could serve this role.
  • A strong body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.
  • Seven cross-cutting themes should be pursued in this new era of research: i) climate forcings, feedbacks, responses, and thresholds; ii) human behaviors and institutions; iii) vulnerability and adaptation analyses; iv) research to support strategies for limiting climate change; v) effective information and decision support systems; vi) integrated climate observing systems; and vii) improved projections, models, analyses, and assessments.
  • The federal climate change research program, working in partnership with other relevant domestic and international bodies, should: a) redouble efforts to develop, deploy, and maintain a comprehensive climate observing system; b) accelerate the development of advanced models and other analytical tools; and c) expand and engage the human capital needed to carry out climate change research and response programs.
  • The nation needs a new era in the climate change science enterprise, one that not only contributes to our fundamental understanding of climate change but also informs and expands America's climate choices.
  • The nation's climate change research enterprise should: 1) integrate disciplinary and interdisciplinary research across the physical, social, biological, health, and engineering sciences; 2) focus on use-inspired, fundamental research that contributes to both improved understanding and more effective decision making; 3) be linked to action-oriented programs focused on limiting and adapting to climate change; 4) be flexible in identifying and pursuing emerging research challenges.