Executive Summary

Overview of the U.S. Global Change Research Program

The Earth's environment is constantly changing. Scientific evidence indicates that these changes are the result of a complex interplay among a number of natural and human-related systems.

While the complexity of the Earth system and the interconnections among its components make understanding and prediction a very difficult challenge, the development of scientific knowledge and research capabilities are greatly advancing the understanding of global environmental change and the role of human activities in contributing to and responding to change.

Humans have come to play a powerful and expanding role as agents of environmental change and human activities are also substantially impacted by global-scale environmental changes. The current and future state of the Earth system is inexorably linked to human activities.

The United States, through the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), along with other nations, supports the research needed to characterize and understand global environmental change and to provide answers to important questions about the Earth system (including human activities), how it is changing, and the implications of global change for society and the natural ecosystems and managed resource systems on which society depends.

To assess the state of scientific information and identify research needs, the United States participates actively in national and international evaluations of the scientific understanding of global change issues. These assessments bring together large numbers of scientists representing a broad spectrum of research specialties and viewpoints to prepare carefully and widely reviewed reports that encompass the range of qualified scientific findings and perspectives.

In 1995, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approved its Second Assessment Report, which, among other conclusions, stated that "the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate."

This follows on a 1994 scientific assessment of ozone depletion organized by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which found that the "conclusion that anthropogenic chlorine and bromine compounds, coupled with surface chemistry on natural polar stratospheric particles, are the cause of polar ozone depletion has been further strengthened."

Since its establishment as a Presidential Initiative in the FY90 budget, the USGCRP has been responsible for directing Federal support for scientific research to address key uncertainties about global environmental change and the Earth system.

The goals of the U.S. Global Change Research Program are:

The USGCRP budget request for FY97 is $1.73 billion, with 10 agencies participating in the program. A few of the agencies support research on the broad range of scientific areas relating to the global environment, while others support research that has a more mission- oriented focus. The programmatic contributions of the USGCRP agencies are coordinated and closely matched to agency missions and areas of expertise.

In response to requests from the Subcommittee on Global Change Research and from Congressional committee chairs in both the House and Senate, the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has been conducting a major program review of the USGCRP.

In a September 1995 interim report, the NRC concluded, "The scientific and societal motivations of the program remain compelling, and the USGCRP should be aggressively pursued." The report stated that, "A great deal of extremely high-quality science that is recognized worldwide for its excellence and leadership has resulted from the USGCRP."

The NRC also made a number of recommendations. The Subcommittee on Global Change Research and the USGCRP participating agencies have been moving aggressively to respond to the NRC recommendations on program integration and strategic research directions.

Key Global Change Environmental Science Issues

In response to the development of scientific understanding and research capabilities that has occurred over the life of the program, the USGCRP is moving to focus research efforts on what the NRC has termed "...priority issues in four mature areas of Earth system science that are of great scientific and practical importance." These priority environmental science issues follow:

Progress toward this goal will provide a stronger scientific basis for developing environmental and natural resource practices that are environmentally sound and practical, and that will ensure ecosystems yield sustainable benefits to humankind.

The USGCRP supports research projects to inventory the current land cover of the Earth and to document changes; to improve understanding of the dynamics of land-cover and land-use change and how terrestrial ecosystems react to change; and to document and understand chemical, physical, and biological processes in the oceans and their relationship with the carbon cycle and marine life.

Integrating Research Themes, Scientific Information, and Outreach Responsibilities

To provide the basis for continuing advancement in scientific understanding and to fulfill the U.S. commitment to international leadership in global change research, the USGCRP supports a number of essential ongoing integrative and cooperative efforts:

Progress toward this goal will help ensure that societal decision making is based on an informed understanding of global change, and will serve society's vital interest in the education of young scientists.

The USGCRP has a multi-pronged approach to promote the dissemination and use of global change research and information; to promote the development of the next generation of scientists; to integrate global change information into the existing formal and informal educational systems; and to support professional development programs for educators on Earth system science.

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