Below you will find answers to the most frequently asked questions about the First National Climate Assessment Report.
What was the goal of the First National Assessment?
The overall goal of the National Assessment was to analyze and
evaluate what was known about the potential consequences of climate
variability and change for the nation in the context of other pressures
on the public, the environment, and the nation's resources. Special
efforts were made to involve the end users - such as water resource
managers, farmers, and decisionmakers - in all stages of the Assessment
so that the final outcome was useful to the widest audience possible and
was truly developed through a participatory process.
What were the main components of the First National Assessment?
There were three major components of the assessment: regional
analyses, sectoral analyses, and a national synthesis. Regional
analyses identified and characterized potential consequences on the
geographic regions identified by the current workshop process.
analyses were performed by teams comprised of experts from both
public and private sectors and the spectrum of stakeholder
communities. Sectoral analyses considered potential consequences on
sectors such as agriculture, "environmental sectors" such as
water resources, and "societal sectors" such as human health.
These analyses were quantitative and national in scope. The
synthesis drew together the results of both the regional and
analyses. It was national in scope.
Common climate and socioeconomic scenarios were used to derive
information for each of these components, to test out sensitivities, and
to develop information that could be effectively synthesized. Outreach and
stakeholder involvement was also a fundamental part of the assessment.
What timeframe did the First National Assessment address?
The National Assessment emphasized the potential consequences
over the next 25-30 years, and also over the next 100 years. Analyses of
potential consequences over the next 100 years considered the
potential for significant secular changes in climate, potentially
accompanied by changes in climate variability and the frequency of
extreme events, as well as the projected large changes in atmospheric
carbon dioxide concentrations. Over this time frame, coping technologies
and practices were expected to change, so some provision was
made in the analyses for these considerations. Analyses of potential
consequences over the 25-30 years were needed to consider that
atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations would certainly continue to
rise, and that there might be modest, but observable, trends in climate.
Potential consequences over both short and long time frames were needed to
consider the possibility of non-linear and threshold responses.
Who was the intended audience for the First National Assessment?
There were multiple audiences for the Assessment. The regional
assessments were primarily for regional audiences; the sectoral
assessments and Synthesis were primarily for national audiences. Congress
was the primary audience for the Synthesis Report, as a surrogate for the
American people. In general, the Assessment was focused on providing
information for various users of information - such as people working in
areas sensitive to natural resources (water managers, farmers, ranchers,
etc.) and people positioned to implement or make decisions about coping
strategies at local, state and Federal levels.
Did the First National Assessment synthesize existing literature or
conduct new research?
Primarily the former. Analysis was based on extant scientific
literature and on new studies done specifically in support of the
national assessment process. The national assessment process was
guided by a short list of questions such as the following:
- What are the current environmental stresses and issues for the
United States that will form a backdrop for potential additional
impacts of climate change?
- How might climate variability and change exacerbate or ameliorate
- What are the priority research and information needs that can
better prepare policy makers to reach wise decisions related to
climate variability and change?
- What research is most important to complete over the short term?
Over the long term?
- What coping options exist that can build resilience to current
environmental stresses, and also possibly lessen the impacts of
Was the First National Assessment mandated?
The United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) is mandated
by statute with the responsibility to undertake scientific assessments
of the potential consequences of global change for the United States.
The "Global Change Research Act of 1990" (P.L. 101-606) states
that the Federal government "shall prepare and submit to the
President and the Congress an assessment which:
- integrates, evaluates, and interprets the findings of the Program
and discusses the scientific uncertainties associated with such
- 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; and
- analyzes current trends in global change, both human-inducted and
natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100
How was the First National Assessment organized?
A National Assessment Synthesis Team (NAST) was responsible
intellectual leadership and preparation of the Synthesis Report.
was a FACA-chartered committee with roughly a dozen members
from government, academia, and the private sector. A National
Working Group (NAWG) coordinated the participation of the
agencies who were sponsoring and catalyzing the assessment and
provided significant intellectual input into the development of
overall assessment strategy. A National Assessment Coordination
linked the various components and tracked progress. NACO helped
a framework within which the efforts of large numbers of local,
regional, and Federal participants interacted with the national
assessment process in ways that provided useful insights and
the National Synthesis, and promoted development of stakeholder
that developed useful insights for their own purposes, quite
apart from any final National Synthesis. Each region and sector
was sponsored by a Federal agency and implemented by an assessment team.
Who was "in charge" of the First National Assessment?
The parent body within the US Government for the National
was the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR),
which is a
subsidiary body of the National Science and Technology Council,
by the President. The CENR has delegated responsibility for
assessment activities to its Subcommittee on Global Change
which is the parent committee for the USGCRP. The SGCR has broad
responsibilities for research planning and coordination among
Federal agencies. With respect to the National Assessment, the
SGCR was charged with overall coordination, implementation, and
of the national assessment process.
Individual agencies, in cooperation with the SGCR/NAWG, had lead
responsibility for organizing and sponsoring the sectoral analyses under
the guidelines established by the NAST and SGCR/NAWG. Each sectoral team
was composed of both public and private participants.
Who was "in charge" of each region and of what ended up in
the regional report? Each sector?
Each region had at least one Regional Coordinator and one
Contact, representing the sponsoring agency. In addition, many
had both a Steering Committee to focus on general strategy, and
Assessment Team to conduct the analysis. It was important that
these mechanisms worked together so that the assessment was
reflective of broad interests and perspectives in its strategy, conduct
and findings. In addition, each report went through review and
revision. Finally, the NAWG assisted with developing a
strategy across regions and for troubleshooting. However,
responsibility for each regional report and the overall conduct
regional assessment rested with the Regional Coordinator(s) and
Similarly, each sector had two Co-Chairs (one from government, one
from outside of government), an Agency Contact, and an Assessment Team.
While the regions were monitored by the NAWG, the sectors were monitored
and guided by the NAST. However, the Co-Chairs and Agency Contact had
What regions were covered in the First National Assessment?
Twenty regions held scoping workshops from May 1997 to October
1998 to identify the priority questions and issues of regional
stakeholders. Pending funding support, each of these regions was invited
to participate in the next phase of the assessment, which involved
quantitative analysis of the key issues that had been identified. There
were a few cases where one region merged with another, or where a
region did only minimal follow-up to the workshop report. However,
the majority of these regions fully completed this process. Regions were also encouraged to conduct joint activities
and analyses where possible.
What was the relationship between the regional scoping workshops
and the regional assessments?
The regional scoping workshops represented the first stage in
conducting regional assessments. They were meant to identify key
questions, issues, and concerns which then were further analyzed and
pursued. This sometimes involved applying quantitative methods and models, and
further outreach activities, such as additional workshops
with stakeholder groups. The two major components of the post-workshop
phase included (a) quantitative assessment of 2-3 key issues or sectors
and (b) continuous cultivation and engagement of regional stakeholder
What products came out of the regions?
Each regional scoping workshop began with a scoping paper meant to
generate discussion among participants. Following each workshop,
organizers prepared a workshop report to reflect discussions; often this
was a revision of the scoping paper. For the next (post-workshop) phase,
each region prepared a report addressing a common set of questions.
However, regions were also free to develop any other useful products, although these were
not published as regional documents, and
were not as part of the national volumes.
What sectors were covered in the First National Assessment?
Five sectors received special treatment in this National
Assessment: health, water, forests, agriculture, and coastal areas. In
each case a team was formed to conduct an assessment of the
vulnerability of the sector and the possible coping strategies at a
national level. However, regions also worked with sectors and
were not limited to those (five) selected by the Synthesis Team. As a
result, the Synthesis Report was not limited to these five sectors.
Why were these sectors selected and not others?
The intent was to select a small number of sectors where this
assessment could have some "value-added". The idea was to do a
relatively small number of sectors well and then move onto other sectors
later. It was recognized that this list was not comprehensive.
How did the regions and sectors interact?
It was anticipated that the regions would be involved in the sectoral
assessments from the earliest stages. For example, the leaders of the
water sector held a workshop to launch the analysis which
involved one representative from each region and one from each of the
other sectors. The sectoral analyses both built from the regional
inputs, and did some additional broader scale (national and
Each region was also asked to select about 2-3 sectors to pursue in
the post-workshop phase. However, these did not necessarily reflect the five
sectors that received special treatment. Therefore, very strong
communication was necessary between regions and sectors to assure
What is in the Synthesis Report?
The Synthesis Report drew together the results of both the
regional and sectoral analyses of the potential consequences of climate
variability and change. In addition, the synthesis effort involved
new analyses. So it was mainly, but not
exclusively, based on the regional and sectoral analyses.
What scenarios were used by the regional and sectoral teams?
The Synthesis Team developed a strategy for the regional and sectoral teams to use scenarios that assisted with some common
formats that could be more easily synthesized. For climate scenarios, the
Synthesis Team focused on three components: (1) historical information
(a historical climatology of the U.S. covering the 20th century to
examine trends); (2) General Circulation Model projections (primary tool
was the Canadian Climate Model run in transient mode
to 2100, assuming a 1% per year increase in greenhouse gas
concentrations, with and without aerosols); and (3) Flexible, "what
if" component where regions developed their own scenarios to
understand the sensitivity of systems. For socioeconomic scenarios, the
Synthesis Team developed a framework which combined assumptions about
the regional economy with assumptions about the degree to which the
sector was stressed. Hadley Centre and Max-Planck General Circulation
Model runs also were available.
Were assessment teams limited to these scenarios?
No. Teams were requested to follow this scenario strategy in order to
develop some common information that could be effectively synthesized
and compared across volumes. However, teams were welcome to pursue
additional scenarios, and could use any other General Circulation Models (GCMs).
Why were these General Circulation Models (GCMs) selected rather
Some criteria for selecting GCMs included: (a) availability of daily
data; (b) accessibility of the data (how "user-friendly"); and
(c) timing of availability (will the runs be completed in time to be
useful for this assessment?). The intent was not to discriminate against
any models, but to find the most accessible and useful runs, given the
need for immediate availability.
What is the relationship between the First National Assessment and
the Kyoto Protocol?
These were separate activities. The National Assessment looked at
vulnerability and coping strategies ("impacts") while the Kyoto Protocol
(which the U.S. has not ratified) concerns emissions reductions
("mitigation"). Within the National Assessment process, regional
stakeholders were encouraged to develop
"win-win" strategies that simultaneously reduced emissions and
enhance the resilience of the particular sector. However, the focus was
never placed exclusively or directly on mitigation.
Was it "off limits" to talk about policy impacts (for
example, potential impacts of Kyoto on the energy sector) at the
Nothing on the minds of regional stakeholders was necessarily
"off limits". However, it was emphasized that this
process was set up by the research arm of the Federal government,
and so was not necessarily designed to channel these debates and
What was the relationship between the First National Assessment and the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)?
The National Assessment was timed to provide input into the
Third Assessment Report of the IPCC. The IPCC itself developed
a regional focus and published a Special Report on The Regional Aspects of Climate Change in 1997. However, IPCC regions were much larger than
National Assessment regions: in the IPCC Special Report, the United
States was merged with Canada in a North American chapter. In the
National Assessment, the United States was divided into 20 regions.