American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

U.S. Climate Forum on the Consequences of Global Change for the Nation: 12-3-97

On November 12-13, GAP staff attended the U.S. Climate Forum on the Consequences of Global Change for the Nation in Washington D.C. sponsored by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). Th e forum was held at the midpoint of a series of regional workshops conducted throughout the U.S. and was aimed at presenting information gained thus far and refocusing for the remaining workshops. The forum also served as a kickoff for a national assess ment process on the consequences of climate change and its implications for local, regional, and national decision-making and future sustainability. The national assessment will be based on the regional workshops, sectoral assessments, and a national syn thesis and will be released in early 1999.

OSTP Director John Gibbons opened the session by stating that climate change presents "an extraordinary opportunity as well as an extraordinary challenge." Dr. Eric Barron, Penn State University, followed with an explanation of the scientific understandin g of climate change. Barron stated that warming will occur, predominately at high latitudes, with increased fossil fuel emissions. Sea level will rise due to melting sea ice and thermal expansion. Uncertainties remain, however, on the amount of temperat ure variability that is natural as well as specific locations and time frames for phenomena such as storms and other regional impacts. Dr. Rosina Bierbaum, OSTP, followed with a presentation on the possible impacts of climate change. She stated that dro ughts will increase, possibly causing $15 billion in agricultural losses. Regarding public health, climate change could increase the amount of weather-related mortality as well as air quality and vector-borne diseases. Rising sea level will cause the de struction of shore-front property and an inundation of coastal wetlands and deltas, which have some of the densest populations in the world. Forum Chair Dr. Jerry Melillo, Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, discussed the national assessment. It will contain scenarios of events in the context of many stressors, will be relevant to policy-makers, and scientifically credible by using a peer-review process. It will be presented to Congress and eventually to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for its third assessment in 2000.

Participants then gathered in breakout sessions to address four main issues for each geographical region: current stressors; ways climate change will affect current stresses; priority research and information needs; and coping strategies for climate chang e. Although current stressors and effects of climate change varied across regions, the need for long-term research and models to illustrate regional effects were mentioned by nearly all sections. The following day, breakout session focused on sectoral i ssues including food and water availability, ecosystem services, forests, human health, urban services, energy, and commerce, industry, and trade.

Dr. Bierbaum began a panel discussion by noting that policymakers are ready to act on climate change and want science to back their decisions, but scientists are hesitant because they want more certainty. Granger Morgan, Carnegie Mellon, spoke about the importance of private sector involvement and the use of detailed future scenarios to make climate change less abstract. Eric Barron emphasized the importance of assessments and the need to ensure that assessments actually produce new material, and aren't simply a "relabeling" of previous studies. Molly Olsen focused on the need to create a common language on climate change to eliminate barriers between politicians, social scientists, physicists, and economists. Mike Rodemeyer, Chief Democratic Counsel for the House Science Committee, spoke about the skepticism in Congress and the politicization of science in this debate. Blair Henry, Northwest Council on Climate Change Chair, encouraged the audience to get other citizens involved to pressure Congress . He also believes the national assessment should be presented in a readable, engaging manner. Finally, Bob Friedman, vice president for research at the Heinz Center, stated that we should start with a policy direction and then examine the science on ho w to achieve the policy.

Bierbaum summarized common themes of the panel and breakout discussions: the need to prioritize, account for surprises, increase partnerships, educate the public about climate change, use constituencies to influence Congress, and create an integrative, in terpretive final national assessment. Melillo concluded by announcing that a draft of the assessment plan will be available on the web by January 1998 and scenario developments will be ready by August 1998.

For more information on the forum or ways to become involved in the regional workshops, visit the USGCRP website. Additional information on events leading up to the international negotiations in Kyoto is available on AGI's web page.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Last updated December 3, 1997

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