Climate Change Assessment:

Administration Did Not Meet Reporting Deadline

GAO-05-338R: Published: Apr 14, 2005. Publicly Released: Apr 22, 2005.

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For many years, scientists have observed a warming trend in the earth's climate and have projected additional changes in the coming decades, with potential implications for human society. To provide for the development and coordination of a comprehensive and integrated U.S. research program that will assist the nation and the world in understanding, assessing, predicting, and responding to such changes, the Congress, in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (act), required the administration to, among other things, prepare a national global change research plan, a summary of the achievements and expenditures in the area of federal climate change research, and a scientific assessment. The scientific assessment is to be prepared at least every 4 years and is to: (1) integrate, evaluate, and interpret research findings on climate change of the Global Change Research Program (implemented under the Global Change Research Plan) and scientific uncertainties associated with such findings; (2) analyze the effects of global change on the natural environment, human health and welfare, and other specified areas; and (3) analyze current trends in global change and project major trends for the next 25 to 100 years. In 2002, the President announced the creation of the interagency Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) to coordinate and direct U.S. research efforts in the area of climate change. CCSP is now responsible for producing and submitting the climate change assessment and is led by the Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at the Department of Commerce. In July 2003, CCSP's strategic plan was transmitted to the Congress. The strategic plan contained a schedule for preparing the next assessment by publishing 21 reports, each focusing on a specific topic. Congress asked us to evaluate the extent to which CCSP's planned assessment meets the requirements of the act regarding the timing and content of such an assessment.

CCSP did not submit a scientific assessment in November 2004, 4 years after the previous assessment, as required by the act. Instead, CCSP's July 2003 schedule called for issuing 21 shorter reports between 2005 and 2007. According to that schedule, the first 9 reports are due on or before September 30, 2005, and the other 12 are due on or before September 30, 2007. Thus, by the time the last of these reports is published, about 7 years will have elapsed since the publication of the 2000 report--nearly twice the interval specified in the act. Further, the CCSP Director told us that he was not certain that even the first 9 reports would be published in accordance with this planned schedule. It is unclear how the 21 reports proposed in CCSP's July 2003 strategic plan will address all three of the components of the assessment required under the act. The planned report topics generally appear to focus on either of these components: (1) the evaluation and interpretation of research findings on climate change and associated scientific uncertainties or (2) the analysis of current trends in global change and projection of major trends. However, CCSP has no comparable explicit plan for addressing the other major required component, assessing the effects of global change on the eight areas enumerated in the act: the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To ensure that the climate change assessments required under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 present information in a manner that is most useful for the Congress and the public, the CCSP should develop plans to prepare the next assessment within the prescribed time frame, or if 4 years are insufficient to complete the assessment, recommend to the CCSP interagency Committee that CCSP request an extension from the Congress.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the climate change assessments required under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 present information in a manner that is most useful for the Congress and the public, the CCSP should develop a specific plan to address all eight of the assessment areas.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the climate change assessments required under the Global Change Research Act of 1990 present information in a manner that is most useful for the Congress and the public, the CCSP should recommend to the CCSP interagency Committee that a summary report be prepared to integrate the findings of the 21 or more individual reports.

    Agency Affected:

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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