UMD ESSIC Scientist a lead author on third National Climate Assessment

With help from more than 300 experts and a 60-person advisory committee, the U.S. Global Change Research Program released its third National Climate Assessment (NCA) on May 7, 2014.

Established in 1989, the congressional mandated program is responsible for disseminating information, forecasts, and responses related to various types of global climate change. The program’s research mission culminates every four years with the creation of an NCA.

The 2014 report spans 30 chapters and is more than 800 pages in length.

Dr. Melissa Kenney, an environmental decision scientist and research assistant professor at the University of Maryland’s Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center, was a lead author for the Decision Support section, which is one of five Response Strategies chapters in the report.

“These are new chapters, they’ve never been done before,” Kenney said. “And that’s really exciting because it’s recognizing the importance of not just providing people with information about how the climate is changing … but also what we’re doing to respond to those impacts.”

Kenney’s chapter focuses on decision frameworks, or processes through which officials make decisions. The chapter details how risk management and acclimation to new scientific research are useful strategies for decision-makers, especially for creating policy related to climate change, which is often dynamic or uncertain.

The chapter also focuses on adaptation and mitigation, which are vital to the decisions many communities will need to make, in order to lower greenhouse gas emissions or prevent future climate change.

“We really wanted it to be a report for the people,” Kenney said. “[There was] a lot of emphasis on making it incredibly scientifically rigorous, but describing it in a way that non-scientists could sink their teeth into … and understand the impacts we may be facing as a nation.”

Though the chapter outlines the effects of different decision-making methods, Kenney and fellow lead authors kept the content strictly educational rather than recommending specific initiatives.

“We don’t tell people how to make their choices, but we do tell what the consequences of those choices mean so folks can make decisions [based] on what impacts may occur. It’s not policy prescriptive,” Kenney said.

The Decision Support section also acknowledges that decision-making is vital for current, as well as future climate and climate change policy, echoing one of the report’s overarching messages.

“What I really hope is that it is really clear from the entire report that, in the U.S., climate change isn’t just a problem for the future; we’re seeing climate change right now,” Kenney said. “There are real opportunities to take information … and start using it to make climate-smart decisions in our community, states and nation.”