Organization: Department of Commerce (DOC)

Research Title: Economics and Human Dimensions of Climate Fluctuations

Funding Level (millions of dollars):

FY94 .6
FY95 1.1
FY96 1.3

Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) Component:
(a) Subcommittee: Global Change Research Subcommittee (100%) Social and Economic Sciences Research Subcommittee
(b) Environmental Issue: Natural variability (70%); Climate change (30%)
(c) Research Activity: Impacts and Adaptation/Socioeconomic systems (60%); Assessments (40%)

Organizational Component:
Office of Global Programs
1100 Wayne Ave., Suite 1225
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Point of Contact:
Claudia Nierenberg
Phone: 301 427-2089

Research Goals:
To provide the scientific community with the data and information necessary to assess seasonal, interannual, decadal and longer climate variations and changes, distinguish between natural and anthropogenically-induced change, and strengthen predictive capability.

Research Description:
The program supports interdisciplinary research which assesses the complex interactions among the physical, natural, and social systems associated with (and impacted by) year-to-year and intradecadal fluctuations in the climate system. The focus is on research efforts that jointly assess the oceanic and atmospheric dynamics driving potential climate variations, the impacts of climate variability across sectors and biological systems, the social and economic factors that determine sensitivity to climate variability, and the range of adjustment options currently available as well as those that could be enhanced by advance climate information.

Since impacts resulting from climate variability are most effectively studied in a regional context, studies are being supported which assess the regional impacts of climate on key economic sectors and resource management decisions, such as fisheries, agriculture, health and water management, and the use of climate predictions for early warning systems and more efficient utilization of resources.

Such studies include: i) effects of El Niño on coastal property loss and mortality, agricultural production, rangeland and agricultural land use patterns, ii) the implications of climate variability for the spread of disease and the use of advance climate information for public health early warning systems; iii) the adaptation of the fisheries sector to El Niño and the use of ENSO forecasts for improved fisheries management, iv) the use and value of ENSO forecasts for food security in developing countries and hence more effective emergency aid, v) how individuals and institutions will adapt to potential increased storm surges and sea level rise in the future; and vi) how societies have adapted in the past to climatic fluctuations.

Projects being funded in FY95 also address the critical questions of how humans interact with climate fluctuations and how human activities interact with environmental change. These projects include the following: i) the impacts of land use and nutrient runoff on natural systems of coastal margins, ii) differentiating past climatic influences on land use and ecological change, and iii) an integrated modeling project focusing on the range of factors influencing global average temperature change.

All research projects discussed are solicited through a yearly announcement and are evaluated by peer review.

Program Interfaces:
Specific stakeholders include individuals in climate sensitive sectors, such as insurance, health, energy, agriculture, fisheries, water supply, and transportation. The Program has supported interdisciplinary work linking to paleoclimatology and studies of the ENSO phenomenon and climate forecasting. By framing information on climate variability in a manner useful to those individuals and sectors impacted by the variability, the research funded complements the work of the International Research Institute (IRI) for the Seasonal to Interannual Climate Prediction Program (SCPP) and the Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI).

Program Milestones:
In the next year, the program will focus on truly interdisciplinary research projects across a range of natural and social science disciplines to assess in an integrated framework the multitude of climatic and social factors driving human vulnerability to variations in the climate system. The Program will make linkages to evolving institutional initiatives to apply research results to practical needs.

Policy Payoffs:
The economic and social value of the achievements we have made in ENSO forecasting (year-to-year natural variations) can only be realized if individuals and industry are informed about how to use the information most effectively. The research funded by this program is designed to ensure that US citizens understand what makes economic and social activity vulnerable to climate and how vulnerability, indeed disaster, can be reduced through informed application of climate forecasts. How forecast information can be translated into probabilities that decision-makers can incorporate, under what circumstances agricultural production might be ,affected or water quality or quantity disrupted, what opportunities exist for effective investment in natural disaster mitigation, and how early-warning climate information can be applied for low-cost mitigation of the spread of disease, are examples of the practical applications of this research.