A National Climate Service?

May 27th, 2009

Posted by: admin

The House Science and Technology Committee will consider H.R. 2407, the Climate Service Act of 2009, during a markup hearing on June 3.  The bill was introduced by the Committee’s Chairman, Rep. Bart Gordon, so it stands a decent chance of passing out of committee.  I have no idea how far it might move after that.  An open question is how closely the fate of this bill is tied to the fate of Waxman-Markey.

The bill would establish a stand-alone National Climate Service within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The purpose of the service would be to:

(1) advance understanding of climate variability and change at the global, national, and regional levels;

(2) provide forecasts, warnings, and other information to the public on variability and change in weather and climate that affect geographic areas, natural resources, infrastructure, economic sectors, and communities; and

(3) support development of adaptation and response plans by Federal agencies, State, local, and tribal governments, the private sector, and the public.

More specific functional responsibilities of the proposed Service are in Section 4(c)(5) of the bill.  If the bill is passed, the NOAA Administrator would have to develop an implementation plan that would provide more detail about the responsibilities for the NCS and how it would fit with the rest of NOAA.

The NCS would leverage some of the stations and locations of the National Weather Service to establish itself across the nation.  It would share information with other NOAA components as needed.  As described in the legislation (Section 4(c)(1)),

“The Under Secretary shall operate the National Climate Service through a national center, the Climate Service Office, and a network of regional and local facilities, including the established regional and local offices of the National Weather Service, 6 Regional Climate Centers, the offices of the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program, the National Integrated Drought Information System, and any other National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-supported regional and local entities, as appropriate.”

The bill would also establish cooperative research programs (the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program) that would be awarded through a peer-reviewed process.  The teams working in this program would “conduct applied regional climate research and projects to address the needs of local and regional decisionmakers for information and tools to develop adaptation and response plans to climate variability and change.”

I come to this more from a process/organizational perspective (creating a new agency) than the climate change angle.  A question rolling around in my mind is how this agency would (or would not) mesh with the number of advisory and other bodies that would be created by Waxman-Markey.  My sense is that the House is much more invested in Waxman-Markey, but not necessarily in the parts of that bill where the various advisory groups and other entities are established.  That said, it would not surprise me if potential conflicts and overlaps between a National Climate Service and the bodies established in Waxman-Markey are not addressed prior to closure on that legislation.

9 Responses to “A National Climate Service?”

  1. Twitted by Omnibudsman Says:

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  3. Jeff Says:

    The Climate Service is an interesting idea that was originally proposed, I believe, by the National Acadamies and really championed by Bush’s NOAA Administrator, Admiral Lautenbacher.

    In general, he saw a world that was increasingly becoming reliant on climate data, modeling and information but without a trusted, accountable source for said data. In much the same way as the Weather Service has become the sole official source for weather information (except for the military perhaps), the Climate Service would fill a current void for similar information.

    If you’re looking to build a multi-million dollar wind-energy project, where do you get the data on the best place to cite the project for the next 5, 10, 15 years? How does the insurance and risk management industry calculate the true risk of coastal residents to hurricane damage over the same time period? And if you’re installing a multi-billion dollar cap-and-trade scheme, how do you accuratly measure sources of carbon, where carbon moves and how effective the scheme is?

    Given the effect on climate of nearly every industry, a National Climate Service is important regardless of where you stand on the issue of AGW and hopefully it won’t get caught up in the politics of the climate issue. Giving people more data and information for their decisions is a good idea.

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  5. Maurice Garoutte Says:

    A centralized and trusted repository for historical observed data would be a good thing.

    Adding research to develop policy related projections would place science back in its proper place; under thumb of the bureaucracy.

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  7. Kmye Says:

    Is it overly paranoid to be unsettled by a scientific government bureaucracy being created whose funding and perhaps long-term existence could likely depend on the data it collects or generates – as well as the general picture it paints through press releases, etc. – turning out a certain a way?

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  9. David Bruggeman Says:

    Doesn’t the funding and/or long-term status of all scientific government bureaucracies depend on what they produce?

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  11. Kmye Says:

    My point is, I’d imagine if real new data and projections started to lean towards AGW not being as catastrophic an issue as it’s being painted as now, or if simple low cost solutions to reducing atmospheric CO2 other than direct emissions reductions came along that similarly made AGW a less pressing issue, if that became public, it certainly seems possible the new bureaucracy might receive significantly less funding, and thus have a disincentive to report that data, those projections, or those new solutions, completely accurately and without a spin that would at least help the bureaucracy’s survival…

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  13. David Bruggeman Says:

    This proposed climate service is not unique in that respect among science agencies. Nixon shut down the predecessors to both the OSTP and PCAST because he wasn’t happy with their output. Look at NASA and how it did and didn’t approach safety concerns over the last 25 years.

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  15. Jeff Says:


    The existence or not of AGW is completely irrelevant to the concept of a National Climate Service. Climactic changes affect all of us and having better information and understanding of what is going on can lead to better decionmaking that saves money, conserves resources and and potentially protects life and property.

    When it comes right down to it, a water resource manager out west doesn’t care either way about AGW. His job depends on allocating scarce resources between a multitude of constituents all demanding it. You think he wouldn’t like better information, data and understanding of what drought conditions were going to do to his area 6 months to a year in the future? These are the types of services that would be provided.

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  17. Kmye Says:


    I think new information that presents decision-makers with more informed options in more accurate cost-benefit frameworks should be a good thing.

    I could support this in an ideal world, and maybe my fears are unfounded anyway, but I’m not at all convinced that there wouldn’t be a significant difference in this organization’s budget, and perhaps authority, in a near-to-midterm future where CO2-driven AGW is still considered an immediate, catastrophic, AND mostly unaddressed/”unsolved” problem, as opposed to one where it isn’t.

    If this potential disparity is realistic, and if the NCS’s work would deal, for example, with projecting regional effects and costs of projected temperature rises or assessing the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of solutions such as air capture or just adaptation, it seems like there’s a very real potential for conflict of interest (a conflict of interest like this worrying me much more being in a government beauracracy than in academia in general) pushing the NCS in the direction of inflated costs, exacerbated dangers, and diminished effectiveness of simple solutions.

    As one who thinks we’ll never develop any rational policy on this issue until we turn away from the precautionary principle and begin looking at things in a cost-benefit framework where uncertainty in projections is honestly and accurately taken into account, I’m concerned a NCS would have strong incentives to produce data and positions that unjustly lead policy makers in the other direction.