APPENDIX C. The U.S. Global Change Research Program

The USGCRP was established in 1989, and was included as a Presidential Initiative in the FY90 budget as a high-priority research effort, designed to:

Congress codified the USGCRP in the Global Change Research Act of 1990, in order to provide for:

  • "...development and coordination of a comprehensive and integrated United States research program which will assist the Nation and the world to understand, assess, predict, and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change."

  • "...increasing the overall effectiveness and productivity of Federal global change research efforts."2
  • The Global Change Research Act defines global change as "changes in the global environment (including alterations in climate, land productivity, oceans or other water resources, atmospheric chemistry, and ecological systems) that may alter the capacity of the Earth to sustain life."

    This mandate for the USGCRP makes it clear that the program is to have a broad scope and consider the full set of issues dealing with actual and potential global environmental change. This approach recognizes the profound economic, social, and ecological implications of global changes and the need to maintain U.S. leadership in this area.

    Since its inception, the USGCRP has been directed toward strengthening research on key scientific issues, and has fostered much improved insight into the processes and interactions of the Earth system. The results of research supported by the USGCRP play an important role in international scientific assessments, including assessments of climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion. The USGCRP research results provide the scientific information base that underpins consideration of possible response strategies, but the USGCRP does not recommend policies on global change issues, nor does it include support for research and development of energy technologies, development of mitigation strategies, or for the Climate Change Action Plan.

    Presidents Bush and Clinton, and Congress, have supported the USGCRP as a high priority in the national scientific research agenda.

    Program Direction and Agency Research Contributions

    The Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR) of the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR), a component of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), provides overall direction and executive oversight of the USGCRP. Within this framework, agencies manage and coordinate Federally supported scientific research on global change. In addition to USGCRP review of the overall set of agency research programs, each agency is responsible for the review of individual projects within its programs. These reviews are almost exclusively based on an external peer-review process, which is deemed an important means of ensuring continued program quality.

    The Global Change Research Act specifies a minimum of 14 Federal agencies as well as planning and oversight offices of the Executive Office of the President to be represented in the oversight of global change research. The SGCR includes representatives of the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Institute of Standards and Technology), Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services (the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences), Interior, and State as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Smithsonian Institution, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, and the intelligence community.

    Global environmental issues are very complex and require a wide range of expertise. Overcoming obstacles to cooperation among agencies is well worth the effort to coordinate their contributions because of the wide range of challenges to be addressed, the interests and capabilities of each agency, and the need to make the most effective use of available budgetary resources to implement a strong research program. A few of the agencies participating in the USGCRP support research on a broad range of issues, while others have a more specialized focus. Programmatic contributions are closely matched to agency missions and areas of expertise.

    Thus, for example, NASA leads efforts relating to satellite observations of the Earth as well as research to interpret and understand these observations; NOAA leads efforts relating to its interests in improving predictions of atmospheric and oceanic behavior; DOE focuses on research to predict the behavior of the global climate system on decade to century time scales in response to changes in atmospheric composition, and to evaluate the contribution of energy-based emissions to climate change; NSF focuses on broadly based fundamental research to improve understanding of the Earth system; USDA focuses on the roles of and consequences for agriculture, food production, and forests of global-scale environmental change; NIH focuses on potential health-related impacts; DOI focuses on climate system history and impacts on water resources and public lands; EPA focuses on ecosystem and societal impacts of global change; DOD focuses on prediction of seasonal climate anomalies affecting its national security operations; and the Smithsonian Institution focuses on improving knowledge of the natural processes involved in global change.

    To help ensure effective program integration, the SGCR established the Coordination Office of the USGCRP in July 1993. This office, which is staffed by the participating agencies and departments, is responsible for drafting the annual edition of Our Changing Planet  and periodic research plans, as well as facilitating the year-to-year planning and day-to-day coordination and communication needs of the program.

    The planning, coordination, and execution of USGCRP research activities are carried out in close association with and in support of the science priorities of the international research community -- particularly those put forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the World Climate Research Programme, the International Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Programme, and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme. These efforts underpin U.S. participation in and contributions to the international assessments related to aspects of global change.

    The USGCRP maintains an active interaction with the National Academy of Sciences through its Board on Sustainable Development, its Committee on Global Change Research, and several other boards, committees, and panels of the National Research Council that interface with many of the international scientific research programs.

    The overall USGCRP is evaluated periodically for scientific merit and continued relevance to the policy process, both domestic and international, by the National Academy of Sciences.



    Footnote 1: Committee on Earth Sciences, U.S. Global Change Research Program. Our Changing Planet: The FY 1990 Research Plan, July 1989.

    Footnote 2: Global Change Research Act of 1990, 15 USC 2921.


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