2002 Annual

Monday, 14 January 2002: 5:00 PM
Regional Climate Services: Research perspectives and mechanisms for communication
Jonathan T. Overpeck, Institute for the Study of Planet Earth, Univ. of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; and S. K. Avery and B. J. Morehouse
Although the economic value of climate knowledge, both in terms of reduced vulnerability and increase opportunity, now potentially exceeds $25B per year in the United States, our nation still lacks a clear roadmap for the successful implementation of a much needed national climate services program. Many critical clues are emerging, however, from a small number of pilot "regional integrated scientific assessment" (RISA) programs funded by the NOAA Office of Global Programs. These pilot efforts are unique in the emphasis they place on working directly with decision makers in society ("stakeholders") and the coupling of stakeholder partnerships with climate science and assessment research. They are also unique in their "end-to-end" coupling of research, observation, prediction, use, and evaluation of climate knowledge and information.

Two of the RISA programs, focused on climate variability and society in Southwestern and Intermountain Western United States, respectively, have both met with significant success in serving the needs of stakeholders, and together demonstrate that stakeholder-driven "place-based" climate service works. Moreover, these two RISA programs have learned several key lessons that should guide any future climate services program. First and foremost, is the fact that the development and maintenance of stakeholder partnerships can only take place at local to regional scales, and only when based on partnerships of mutual trust. Second, regional decisions are not often dominated by consideration of climate knowledge alone, and this means that climate services must be approached in a multiple-stressor context, and most likely in multi-jurisdictional and multi-agency frameworks as well. Third, state-of-the-art climate understanding is sufficient to begin a climate services, but is also woefully inadequate to meet many stakeholder needs. In order to sustain effective stakeholder partnerships, there has to be an accelerated commitment to understanding climate variability and predictability at the time and space-scales most relevant to stakeholder decision making - major regional scientific gaps must be addressed by enhanced scientific focus, and by implication, any national climate services program will have to initially be 90% research and 10% service, only to evolve over decades to a more equal mix.

RISA efforts and successes to date make it clear that effective stakeholder partnerships cannot be sustained without significantly increased funding for regional climate research, observations, assessment and services activities. And although these local- to regional-scale activities are necessary for a successful climate services, they are not sufficient. Sustained stakeholder partnerships (and thus success) can only be guaranteed if an accelerated commitments are also made to national and global scale climate observing, prediction and research activities. Moreover, an enhanced level of regional to national coordination is needed, and also mechanisms to ensure that the stakeholders are true partners in driving the sciences and services. The RISA program has done an excellent job of lighting the path forward with climate services, but it has also made clear the potholes to avoid.

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