The Environment Division of OSTP addresses
a wide range of issues that we have grouped into two major categories or
"clusters", climate change and environmental quality. Major topics
in each area are as follows:
U.S. Global Change Research Program
Impacts of climate change
Climate Change National Assessment
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Carbon Cycle and Sequestration
Related legislation and budget issues
Gulf of Mexico hypoxia
Report card on ecosystems
Air and water quality
Invasive and endangered species
Natural disaster reduction
The authorizing legislation of the U. S. Global Change Research Program (GCRP) directs the Program to undertake periodic assessments of the consequences of global change for the U.S. In response to a 1997 request from former Science Advisor Jack Gibbons the USGCRP initiated the first national assessment of climate change to "analyze and evaluate what is known about the potential consequences of climate variability and change for the Nation in the context of other pressures on the public, the environment, and the Nation's resources." The process has been designed to be broadly inclusive, drawing on inputs from academia, government, the public and private sectors, and interested citizens. Starting with broad public concerns about the environment, the Assessment is exploring the degree to which existing and future variations and changes in climate might affect issues that people care about.
A National Assessment Synthesis Team (NAST) is responsible for the report, with sectoral and regional teams responsible for additional analyses. A "Blue Ribbon Panel" under the auspices of the PCAST Environment Panel (co-chaired by Peter Raven and Mario Molina) is providing oversight and guidance for the assessment process.
The Report has gone through one stage of
technical review. The report will undergo rigorous government review
and will then be made available for a 60-day public comment period on the
Web as requested by Congress (probably in April). The final step
will be approval by the NSTC, followed by publication in summer of 2000.
The USGCRP began as a Presidential Initiative, and was codified by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. Twelve agencies participate. The overall budget request for FY2001 is $1.74 billion, making the USGCRP the largest civilian interagency research program under the auspices of the NSTC.
The program's fundamental purpose is to increase understanding of the Earth system, and of human and naturally induced changes in the Earth's environment, and thus provide a sound scientific basis for national and international decision making on global change issues. During its first decade, the USGCRP has played a major role in demonstrating that climate change, ozone depletion, and other global-scale environmental changes were, in fact occurring, and that human activities were at least partially responsible for such changes. The focus of global change science is now shifting somewhat to include examination of the potential consequences of such change for managed and unmanaged ecosystems and human society.
One of the requirements of the Global Change Act is that the program creates and submits to Congress a long-term research plan. Such a plan was produced in 1990, but never updated. To assist with this task the USGCRP request commissioned a major National Research Council study of future research challenges. The NRC identified over 500 important questions across atmospheric chemistry, ecosystems science, social science, and other areas, and recommended that carbon cycle, water cycle, and climate change research receive special attention.
Over the next year, this very broad statement
of scientific needs must be transformed into a long-term research strategy.
This is an area of emphasis for the FY 2000 and FY 2001 budgets. US emissions of greenhouse gases could be partially offset by increasing the amount of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by vegetation (crops and trees absorb carbon dioxide as they grow). Under the terms of the Kyoto Protocol, parties would be allowed to count removals by some classes of carbon "sinks" against their total emission reduction targets. Enhancement of carbon sinks could thus provide environmental and economic benefits to the U.S., but we need better information to guide decision making and public and private investment.
The Administration initiated a carbon cycle
science initiative within the USGCRP in the FY2000 budget to help answer
important questions about the amount of carbon terrestrial sinks take up,
how long such sinks will last, and how sinks are best managed. Research
advances on these questions will provide information needed as a basis
for sound policymaking, as well as valuable information about potential
management strategies to land and forest managers in both the public and
The Environment Division has worked with PCAST and the other divisions of OSTP to write two major reports on energy in the last several years, "Federal Energy Research and Development for the Challenges of the Twenty-First Century", November 1997, and "Powerful Partnerships: The Federal Role in International Cooperation on Energy Innovation", June 1999. The November 1997 report laid the foundation for the President's $6 Billion five-year Climate Change Technology Initiative; the June 1999 report is the foundation for the President's $100M International Clean Energy Initiative request for FY2001. In addition, the Environment division has worked with the Technology division to develop the President's Biofuels and Bioproducts Initiative, which is requesting an additional $93M for these activities in FY2001.
Land and water use changes, resource exploitation, invasive species, pollution and nutrient enrichment, and climate variability are all stresses that, singly or in combination, produce adverse effects on the Nation's environmental resources. Science is increasingly called upon to determine whether and how these stresses have impaired ecosystem structure and function and to identify approaches to prevent further impact, preserve and improve productivity and resiliency, and enhance recovery of damaged ecosystems. The Integrated Science for Ecosystem Challenges (ISEC) initiative is designed to help provide an improved science base to guide decision-makers in these efforts by increasing funding for ecological research. This initiative will:
· improve our understanding of the
causes and consequences of environmental stressors;
· intensify activities to understand the importance and ecological role of biodiversity;
· increase the study of ecosystem processes to improve our ability to predict responses to stresses, detect loss of critical function, and evaluate options for restoration;
· make it possible to begin to apply 21st century information technology to ecological data:
For FY 2001, increases of $91 million were
requested for the ISEC initiative, to be shared among 6 agencies (USDA,
USGS, NOAA, NSF, EPA, and the Smithsonian Institution). Each of these
agencies has already made substantial investments to establish base programs
on the aspects of these topics required by their missions.
In 1996, the Vice President requested OSTP to develop a "report card on the health of the Nation's ecosystems" by 2001. The OSTP Environment Division has been working with and supporting the H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment to develop a recently released interim report, "Designing a Report on the State of the Nation's Ecosystems" as the first fruit of this effort. The central idea behind the development of an ecosystem report card is to develop a set of environmental indicators for characterizing the state of our environment that parallel familiar economic indicators. These indicators, such as the rates of unemployment and inflation, are accepted standards and are relied upon by decision-makers in making economic choices. Similarly, information on human health, such as longevity, infant mortality, and estimates of death rates by category of disease, is used universally to gauge the status of human welfare. However, no such measures exist for understanding the status of ecosystems on which both economic and human health depends.
The Heinz Center is a non-profit institution
dedicated to improving environmental policy by fostering collaboration
among industry, environmental organizations, government and academia. The
Center is undertaking this effort with the support and collaboration of
scientists and policy makers across the full spectrum of public and private
organizations and agencies. The interim report produced thus far
provides a basic framework for reporting ecological condition and applies
this framework to three broadly defined ecosystems: croplands, coasts and
oceans, and forests. In 2001, the Center will complete the first
full report on the status of the Nation's ecosystems, which will be expanded
to address six major ecosystems. The existing report on croplands,
forests, and coasts and oceans will be revised and updated, and new material
on arid lands and rangelands, urban/suburban areas, and freshwater systems
will be added. It is hoped that the complete "report card" will provide
a scientifically credible, nonpartisan tool for decision-makers and the
public that effectively utilizes the information already being gathered
by government and non-government organizations.
To support the President's initiative to recover salmon in the Pacific Northwest, we are preparing a report that compiles the findings of a number of recent "state-of-science" reports on salmon. These findings are being evaluated to determine gaps in the state of our knowledge gaps regarding salmon and the ecosystems on which they depend. The Federal portfolio of salmon research is also being assessed to determine its current composition. Using the information on knowledge gaps and the portfolio determinations, we hope to be able to identify new areas of research to improve our understanding of recovery options and their potential effectiveness. We then hope to convene stakeholder agencies at a spring meeting this year to secure an agency consensus and craft changes in the science portfolio.
Hypoxia occurs when dissolved oxygen concentrations are below those necessary to sustain most animal life. Since 1993, mid-summer bottom-water hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico has encompassed an area greater than 4,000 square miles. In 1999, it was 8,000 square miles, about the size of the state of New Jersey. The Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act (HABHRCA) of 1998 calls for an integrated assessment of causes and consequences of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. HABHRCA also calls for a plan of action to reduce, mitigate, and control hypoxia. The National Science and Technology Council's Committee on Environment and Natural Resources developed .a draft integrated assessment which is about to undergo final review by the NSTC Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. The EPA Mississippi River/ Gulf of Mexico Watershed Nutrient Task Force (MR/GM Task Force) will then use this assessment over the next year to develop options for managing the problem. The Integrated Assessment has already been somewhat controversial because its key finding that hypoxia in the northern Gulf of Mexico is caused primarily by excess nitrogen delivered from the Mississippi-Atchafalaya River Basin in combination with stratification of Gulf waters. The major source of this excess nitrogen is runoff from agricultural land in the Mississippi Basin. Agricultural groups are concerned about what actions may be taken in the future to reduce runoff and have expressed opposition to the Assessment's initial conclusions.
The Environment Division, together with the Technology Division, has been evaluating a possible Oceans research initiative for the FY 2002 budget that would focus on coastal biological resources, an area of research that found new resonance following the International Year of the Ocean in 1998. Such an initiative would develop and execute a research agenda to ensure that by 2010 we are using our ocean's biological resources sustainably -- both ecologically and economically. Maggie Smith, our Stanford intern, has synthesized an initial picture of priorities from reports by NSF, NRC, NOAA, Office of Naval Research and CORE. Thus far, there is broad agreement among the groups for increasing ecosystem level research, but a lack of suggested mechanisms to accomplish these goals. Preliminary conversations with NOAA and ONR suggest that NOPP, (the National Ocean Partnership Program), would be willing to develop an R&D agenda for the sustainable use of the ocean's biological resources in the next six months. Such an agenda could right the historical imbalance that now tilts in favor of deep-water ocean research and physical oceanography at the expense of coastal and biological research.