By Nicky Sundt
CSPW Senior Fellow

4NCAThe US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released three major reports this afternoon: the final Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), the public review draft of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) and the public review draft of the 2nd State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR-2). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced the release of the reports yesterday, November 2, in a media advisory: “Experts to discuss new federal climate science report for the U.S.” It announced that the CSSR and draft NCA4 were being released today. We provide a few comments related to the CSSR and the NCA4, and will have more to say about all three reports once we review them.

Climate Science Special Report (CSSR)
The CSSR is the first major component of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. An earlier draft of the CSSR clearly states its importance to the larger NCA4 that is being released as a public review draft today:

The Climate Science Special Report (CSSR) serves several purposes for NCA4, including providing 1) an updated detailed analysis of the findings of how climate change is affecting weather and climate across the United States; 2) an executive summary that will be used as the basis for the science summary of NCA4; and 3) foundational information and projections for climate change, including extremes, to improve “end-to-end” consistency in sectoral, regional, and resilience analyses for NCA4. As an assessment and analysis of the science, this report provides important input to the development of NCA4 and its primary focus on the human welfare, societal, economic and environmental elements of climate change.

The National Academies of Sciences (NAS) reviewed an earlier draft of the CSSR. In June, it published its Review of the Draft Climate Science Special Report, praising it as “an impressive, timely, and generally well-written draft report,” and adding that it was “impressed with the breadth, accuracy, and rigor of the draft CSSR.”

A draft of the CSSR was leaked in August, just before the report went through its final interagency clearance review and approval (see our post, Federal Climate Science Special Report Leaked: Clearance Process Raises Concerns Over Upcoming Climate Assessment Report). The final report issued today can be compared to that clearance draft to determine what changes might have been made as a result of comments received by federal officials during the clearance review. Of great interest will be any changes in (or related to) Chapter 14 on “Perspectives on Climate Change Mitigation.”

The Fourth National Climate Assessment
Under Section 106 of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (GCRA), the USGCRP “not less frequently than every 4 years” is required to prepare and submit to the President and the Congress an assessment that:

  1. “Integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program and discusses the scientific uncertainties associated with such findings;
  2. Analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity;
  3. Analyzes current trends in global change, both human- induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.”

The Third National Climate Assessment was published in May 2014, therefore NCA4 is due in May 2018. The USGCRP does not intend to issue the report by that time, and instead has indicated that the final report will be issued in December 2018.

The draft issued today is open for public comment; it will also be submitted to the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences for review and comments.

Procedural Issues
In its report, Analysis of Global Change Assessments: Lessons Learned (2007), the National Research Council noted that in conducting assessments, a “deliberate and transparent boundary” between those conducting the assessment and policy makers “is necessary to avoid the perception of interference in scientific conclusions.” CSPW is concerned that the assessment has not been sufficiently transparent, and that such a boundary between the assessment and policymakers has not in fact been established and maintained for these reports.

Even under the George W. Bush Administration, the process governing the USGCRP’s 21 “Synthesis and Assessment Products” was described in detail in a document published by the program. The process at that time included the public posting of near-final drafts circulated for interagency review and clearance. This allowed anyone to compare the final published reports with the drafts, and to identify all edits made as a result of the last review process. This level of transparency helped protect the documents from heavy-handed, politically motivated edits.

No such detailed process has been publicly described and posted for the CSSR and the NCA4. The report draft of the CSSR sent for final review and clearance was not posted; it was, however, leaked to The New York Times, which posted it publicly.

Under the Trump Administration, there are serious questions about who is governing the USGCRP and is responsible for final review and clearance of any major reports. The GCRA, stipulates that the USGCRP is to be governed by the White House National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Sustainability (CENRS). In the past, assessment reports have had to be reviewed and cleared by the CENRS. There is no evidence, however, that under President Trump the CENRS exists beyond its charter. The Government Accountability Project has repeatedly submitted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to get CENRS membership rosters and notes of meetings. To date, the Trump Administration has been unresponsive to these requests, leading us to believe that the CENRS exists only on paper (it has a charter), but that it has no actual members, and has held no meetings under this administration.

Instead, responsibilities that previously resided with the CENRS – including final review and clearance of major assessments – have been delegated to its Subcommittee on Global Change Research (SGCR). Here too, CSPW has experienced considerable difficulty obtaining details. Only after filing several FOIA requests were we recently provided with the charter of the SGCR. We have thus far been unable to obtain the minutes of its monthly meetings.

To its credit, the USGCRP Coordination Office does post and periodically update the membership roster of the SGCR (on its Organization and Leadership web page). That membership roster, however, is anything but reassuring. One of the two vacancies on the SGCR resulted from the involuntary reassignment of the Department of Interior representative. Joel Clement was involuntarily reassigned and effectively compelled to resign, apparently because of his work on climate change. See links to our extensive coverage of Joel Clement below. His position on the subcommittee now is vacant. Clearly, his reassignment and the resulting vacancy at a minimum raise legitimate questions about the integrity of the SGCR and its work – especially since these events occurred while the SGCR was overseeing the development of both the CCSR final report and the NCA4 public review draft.

Additional Information


Nicky Sundt is CSPW’s Senior Fellow. She is an expert on energy and climate change with over 35 years of experience and accomplishment in government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. During the four-month fellowship, Nicky will watch over and report on key US federal climate science obligations under law – especially those relating to communications to the President, Congress, and the public.