Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"America's Climate Choices" final report released

Last Thursday, May 12, 2011, the final report of a series of studies requested by the U.S. Congress was released by the Committee on America's Climate Choices. This committee was formed by the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council.

I'm trying to get a handle on what they have done, exactly. There is a site dedicated to the project: America's Climate Choices Dot Org, but be warned that two videos automatically start playing at the same time when you go to that site, creating a strange duet of professorial voices. You can go from that page to a page that gives their summary of the conclusions of the concluding report of their project. I would reiterate their recommendations here except that-- to me-- they are so vague that I don't believe they'd tell anyone reading this anything new.

You can get a free PDF of the report here.

I've now gone page-by-page through the final report looking for what they have to say about adaptation to climate change. To the authors' credit, there is text in there about adaptation, and it isn't just a paragraph at the end. But it is so vague, again, I don't know who is reading this report who would be educated in any way by what they are reading. It's a 117 page report full of generalities like this:

"Adaptation responses can be improved through research on methods for assessing vulnerability and on integrative approaches for responding to the impacts of climate change in interaction with other stresses." (p. 67)

(End of paragraph, no further elaboration.)

I hate to nitpick, but the text is also full of incorrect comma placement that makes me wonder about the level of editing that went into it. This sort of thing is on nearly every page:

"A wide array of actors ... are already playing important roles and should continue to be involved, in the enterprise of collecting and sharing climate-related information..."

Involved, in?

Who is reading this? What are people learning from it? Was it written with the intention of teaching a particular audience?

I wish I understood... I'll keep poking at the internet and trying to figure out what precipitated this report and what the press said around the report release. If the U.S. Congress was their audience I wish it were more concise and specific.

By the by, it does touch on my favorite topic: criteria. On page 46 it gives the following criteria for "climate-related decision making":

1. Risk reduction potential
2. Feasibility and effectiveness
3. Cost and cost-effectiveness
4. Ancillary costs and benefits
5. Equity and fairness
6. International considerations
7. Robustness

My two cents:

1. Risk reduction potential is the same thing as effectiveness, to me.
2. Feasibility is a whole different thing from effectiveness.
3. Cost (direct, indirect, etc.) -- a whole HUGE different thing from cost-effectiveness.
4. Ancillary costs are costs, and should go under that criteria. Ancillary benefits (also called co-benefits) are really their own criterion.
5. Equity and fairness: good for them for including these! It would have been better if they defined the terms anywhere in the text. They give examples, which is good, but only talk about equity in terms of greenhouse gas reduction measures (e.g., the differential impact of the increasing cost of energy), not the much more pronounced disproportionate difference in impacts on vulnerable populations that we'll see as the direct climate impacts start to ramp up.
6. "International considerations" -- could not be more vague as a criterion. This belongs as a sub-category of costs, benefits, and equity.
7. Robustness is a very clear, well fleshed-out criterion in this document.

My revision of their criteria, to make it logical to me:

1. Effectiveness at reducing risk.
2. Feasibility.
3. Costs (direct & indirect, domestic & international).
4. Co-benefits (direct & indirect, domestic & international).
5. Cost-effectiveness.
6. Equitable distribution of benefits (within process and outcomes) across population groups.
7. Robustness to multiple climate futures.

(Not that anyone's asking my opinion.)

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