A disbanded panel once tasked with distilling the federal government’s massive climate science assessments into smaller, more useful packages of information has been reconvened this week. The panel will once again continue studying how the United States can best use climate change data at local and regional levels.
Ten of the original 15 former members are rejoining the panel, which will seek to produce the same report it would have generated had it not been disbanded. Just one key change: The revived panel is not associated with the federal government.
The federal Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment was established in 2015 by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with orders from then president Barack Obama to determine how to best deliver practical climate information to towns, cities, counties, states, resource managers, and industries. However, the committee was dissolved in August 2017 after President Donald Trump decided not to renew its charter and after he pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, an international movement to limit human-caused climate change.
Now, with help from the state of New York, Columbia University, and other partners, that advisory committee has been reestablished.
The reconvened committee will be able to “continue its critical work without political interference and provide the guidance needed to adapt to a changing climate,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office in an official statement.
Sifting Through the Science
Last year, scientists involved in the coordination and integration of federal research released a new volume of the National Climate Assessment (NCA4). First begun in the 1990s, these volumes provide an in-depth look at present and future effects of climate change. The conclusion of the latest report was unequivocal: Humans are responsible for recent warming temperatures.
What’s more, the assessment stressed that these warming temperatures will likely lead to increased coastal flooding due to sea level rise, more frequent bouts of heavy rain and snow, stronger hurricanes, and more frequent droughts, among other threats. “The farther and the faster the Earth system is pushed toward further change, the greater the risk is of unanticipated effects, some of which are potentially large and irreversible,” the NCA4’s authors wrote in a special feature for Eos.
Although NCA4 “provides an excellent foundation for what people need to know,” if someone is trying to figure out where to build a highway or new railroad tracks, “they’re not going to be able to get that information out of a big report,” explained Richard Moss, a researcher from the University of Maryland who originally chaired the Advisory Committee for the Sustained National Climate Assessment. Moss, who studies the intersection of social science and climate change, will once again lead the committee, using offices at Columbia University’s Earth Institute in New York City as the committee’s home base.
“The idea is to get beyond these big tomes to products and formats that are more useful if you’re planning infrastructure or long-lived investments,” Moss said.
The new panel, instead of providing results from scientific studies, will assess how to deliver that data to the public in the most useful way, Moss told Eos. For example, developers looking to build property may need flood data for areas threatened by sea level rise, whereas those planning electrical grids might need information about how climate change will affect the duration and intensity of heat waves, which can cause citywide blackouts.
The panel will also provide guidance to individual states on how to deliver the results handed down by the hefty NCA4. Here institutions of higher learning could be tapped to help communicate information, Moss noted. “We want to look very carefully on the role of universities and other knowledge creators in civil societies and the role they can play to help translate this information within their own communities,” he said.
Funders of the committee’s work will include the state of New York, the American Meteorological Society, Columbia University, and other industry and nongovernmental organizations. Moss hopes that the committee will have their report written and reviewed by experts by the coming fall, close to its originally intended schedule.
The committee’s mission is “open to anyone—Republican, Democrat, or Independent—who acknowledges the risks climate change poses to life, property, and health,” Moss said in a press statement. “If we can make this non-partisan, it starts to break down some of the impasses which just shouldn’t exist.”