International Herald Tribune, France
A government wide climate research program started five years ago by the Bush administration has been plagued by delays and has not devoted enough resources to studying the effects of climate change or to disseminating the findings, an independent scientific panel has found.
But the program has clarified some scientific questions, according to a report issued by the National Academies, the pre-eminent scientific advisory group in the United States.
The Climate Change Science Program, created in 2002 by President George W. Bush to improve climate research across 13 government agencies, has also been hampered by priority shifts, the panel found. Those shifts have led to the grounding of Earth-observing satellites and the dismantling of programs to monitor environmental conditions on earth, the report concluded.
In a printed statement, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, the chairman of the panel, said that the basic scientific efforts of the program have constituted "an important initiative that has broadened our knowledge of climate change."
Among other things, the report noted, the effort has helped resolve disputes over whether the earth's atmosphere is warming significantly or not, allowing scientists to compare data and agree that warming is occurring.
But the report cited more problems than successes in the government's research program. Of the $1.7 billion spent by the program on climate research each year, only about $25 million to $30 million has gone to studies of how climate change will affect human affairs, for better or worse, the report said.
The 15-person panel was made up of scientists from universities and two companies, BP and DuPont.
John Marburger III, the White House science adviser, issued a statement Thursday thanking the science academies for a "thoughtful review" and saying that several issues highlighted in the report "are already being addressed."
The panel found that program delays had been common: only two of the program's 21 planned overarching reports on specific climate issues have been published in final form, and only three more are in the final draft stage. And not enough effort has gone toward translating advances in climate science into information that is useful to local elected officials, farmers, water managers and others who may potentially be affected by shifts in climate, whatever the cause of those shifts, the panel found.
One problem, the panel noted, is a lack of communication between government researchers and officials, industries or communities that could be affected, Ramanathan said in an interview. "We don't know what they need and they don't know what we can provide," he said, referring to the government's science effort.
A major hindrance to progress, the panel's report said, is that the climate program's director and subordinates lack the authority to determine how money is spent.
It also emphasized the risks posed by changes in government priorities that have shifted focus away from earth-observing satellites and ground-based monitoring projects like efforts to track snowpack and stream flows.