Climate Panel Disbanded by Trump, Now Regrouped, Releases Report

Offers framework for translating science into local action

by |April 4, 2019
planting cordgrass in jamaica bay

The American Littoral Society plants cord-grass in New York’s Jamaica Bay salt marsh. The grass helps to reduce erosion, create habitat, and increase the bay’s resilience to storms. Photo: Don Riepe / American Littoral Society

As climate change proceeds, businesses and communities are wondering how to adapt and prepare. However, they’re finding it’s not always easy to translate broad-scale climate science into local solutions, or even to figure out which data to rely on and how to apply it.

That’s why a federal advisory committee appointed by President Obama started meeting in 2016 to explore how to make the National Climate Assessment (NCA) more usable for communities who want to take action. President Trump dismissed the panel in 2017. But with support from the Earth Institute at Columbia University, New York State and the American Meteorological Society, the committee reconvened as the Independent Advisory Committee on Applied Climate Assessment. Today, the committee’s findings and recommendations are published in Weather, Climate and Society, a journal of the American Meteorological Society.

The report calls for the creation of a new network to provide guidance to state, local, and tribal governments on how to use the NCA and other sources of science to get things done in their communities. This network, launched today as the Science to Climate Action Network (SCAN), is independent of the federal government and comprised of experts from civil society and state, local, and tribal settings. By providing hubs for businesses, communities and academics to work together on practical challenges, the network is designed to produce guidance for using science to update infrastructure and building codes, reduce wildfire risk, manage flooding, cut carbon emissions and more.

“The point is to take what we know, make it usable for the communities, and increase their confidence in weighing the tradeoffs and opportunities that come with different strategies for adaptation and mitigation,” said Richard Moss, a visiting senior research scientist at Columbia’s Earth Institute and chairman of the Independent Advisory Committee.

Daniel Zarrilli, New York City’s chief climate policy advisor, said such a collaboration is needed. “We live in an era of climate change and yet many of our systems, codes and standards have not caught up. Integrating climate science into everyday decisions is not just smart planning, it’s an urgent necessity,” he said. Zarilli noted that New York City has its own climate science panel, but most cities don’t have the same resources.

While partnerships to apply climate science in specific cities and communities have already started to take form, Moss said the Science to Climate Action Network will bring projects working on similar challenges together to share ideas, evaluate best practices, develop authoritative data, and then share this information on a national scale.

The consortium would help communities evaluate which climate datasets to rely on for specific decisions and actions. It would focus on practical challenges such as improving engineering designs to be more resilient and establishing new methods to assess returns on investment and weigh the costs and benefits of different strategies. In the long term, said Moss, the knowledge developed could inform the training and certification of professionals who specialize in applying climate science to support decision-making.

The Independent Advisory Committee is not the first to suggest such a consortium, but the new report is “much more specific about how to do this than in the past,” said Moss. “Many of the ideas come from decision-makers, community-based organizations, and climate experts who help users apply knowledge. We’re trying to produce something that adds value for those on the front lines of preparing their communities for climate change.”

The Science to Climate Action Network has already started collaborating with a number of regional research networks, university groups and organizations such as U.S. Climate Alliance and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. Moss says the consortium’s next steps will be to engage additional partners, attract funding and decide which projects to tackle first. “We want to get started right away. With climate impacts becoming more problematic and efforts to limit climate change falling further behind, we can’t afford to wait,” he said.

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