Communication Key to Climate Change Fight

More reliable and timely climate information and better communication are needed to guide the U.S. response to the risks posed by climate change, according to a new national report led by UA geography professor Diana Liverman.

"Many cities, states and businesses have already taken steps to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and are considering how to better adapt to climate change," Liverman said. "There is an urgent need to improve the information that underpins their choices and to share successful strategies. Our report finds that a majority of Americans are concerned about climate change, would like more credible information about it and are willing to take some steps to reduce the risks."

Liverman, who also co-directs the UA's Institute of the Environment, co-chaired the panel that produced the report, "Informing Effective Decisions and Actions Related to Climate Change."

The National Research Council, which is the operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, released the report on July 22. It was commissioned by Congress as part of a suite of four studies known as America's Climate Choices that are designed to help steer the nation's response to climate change.

It recommends several measures for enhancing communication about climate change and calls for a national decision-making framework that is supported by high quality and user-relevant information on climate, its impacts and greenhouse gas emissions.

The study highlights the importance of state and local governments, the private sector and members of the public in responding to climate change and recommends that the federal government seek to enhance these actions across the nation.

To address those demands, the panel made several recommendations to the government, including more interaction with stakeholders and research on their needs; more timely, state-of-the-art information on climate change and response options tailored to the public and private sector at the national, regional and local levels; and an accessible and user-friendly web portal that houses a system for sharing strategies for responding to climate change.

In addition, the report recommends a national system for monitoring, reporting and verifying greenhouse gas emissions. This information is critical to the development of a wide range of policy options and for ensuring that credit is given to those regions and firms that act responsibly on emissions reductions and wish to disclose their climate risks to citizens, investors or shareholders, Liverman said.

"The University of Arizona has been at the forefront in efforts to understand the type of information that users need to assess how climate variability and change affect water, crops, fire, ecosystems and health in our region, and to translate this information through newsletters, websites and outreach events," Liverman said. "I was able to draw on UA research in my contributions to this report."

The panel also called on the federal government to promote more consumer-friendly standards and labels for energy efficiency and the greenhouse gas content of consumer products, and to establish a national task force to improve climate change education.

The other three reports in the "America's Climate Choices" series, released this spring, were: "Advancing the Science of Climate Change," "Limiting the Magnitude of Climate Change" and "Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change." Katharine Jacobs, professor in UA's soil, water and environmental science department, led the panel that issued the latter, prior to taking on a new position with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in Washington, where she seeks to implement some of the reports' recommendations.

Collectively, the four reports produced a broad, action-oriented set of analyses to guide responses to climate change across the country. They tapped experts and stakeholders from a range of communities including academia, business and industry, different levels of government, non-governmental organizations and the international community.

Another report, to be released later this year, will build on its predecessors to help shape national policy choices for confronting climate change.

Liverman has published widely on the human dimensions of climate change including climate impacts on food and agriculture, climate policy, carbon offsets and climate and development. She is known for her efforts to promote the role of the social sciences in understanding environmental issues.

As co-chair of the panel, she also drew on her experience as director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University from 2003 to 2009 to contribute insights and lessons from other countries' successes and failures in responding to climate change.

Last year, Liverman helped organize a series of conferences on climate change, including a science conference in Copenhagen prior to the United Nations climate negotiations.

She also is a former chair of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change and sat on science advisory committees for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Inter-American Institute for Global Change.
By Stephanie Doster, Institute of the Environment, July 22, 2010