Assessments

Overview

Climate change assessments can come in many forms; generally speaking they are syntheses of scientific information that help to understand what the effects of climate change might be, and what the options are for responding to these effects. Assessments can vary widely in scope and scale: they may look at how climate change will affect a community, an ecosystem, or a particular industry.  They can help to serve as a scientific basis for making management and policy decisions. Please read through the pages below to learn more.
 
An archived version of this topic section is available.

Vulnerability Assessments Primer cover

 

 

 

 

 

An Introduction to Climate Change Assessments

K. Schmitt

Synthesis

Synthesis: 

Preparers

Linda Joyce, Rocky Mountain Research Station, US Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO; and Maria Janowiak, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, US Forest Service, Houghton, MI.

An archived version of this topic paper is available.

Issues

The science associated with climate change is increasingly improving our understanding of the potential climate change and their effects on ecosystems, economies, and social systems (1,2,3,4,5). Climate change assessments serve as important syntheses of this science, and they provide information and context for management and policy decisions. Climate change assessments can focus on understanding what climate changes are occurring and what is causing them, the consequences of climate change, or the options for responding to climate change.

Critical to developing an assessment is identifying key questions that express the information needs of managers and decision makers. Assessments vary widely depending upon the geographic area, topic of interest, and need for specific types of information. Assessments may be produced periodically or for one specific need, and some assessments are motivated by legal requirements. Assessments can be conducted by international organizations, federal, state or city institutions, and non-governmental organizations. Most assessments involve an interdisciplinary team of experts and often engage a larger group of stakeholders and potential users of the information.

This topic paper organizes climate change assessments into three main assessment types: impact assessments, vulnerability assessments, and natural resource assessments. These have different purposes and often contain different information. While there are areas of overlap between the types of assessments, it can be much easier to gather and synthesize information once the assessment type has been determined. The intents, contexts, and scientific review processes for each of these assessment types are also described.

Climate Change Impact Assessments

Climate change impact assessments identify and quantify the expected impacts of climate change. These assessments synthesize the current scientific knowledge of the expected effects of climate change on a focus area, such as a resource, economic sector, landscape, or region, for decades to centuries into the future. An analysis often begins by looking at changes to temperature, precipitation, and other climatic variables under multiple scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions (6). The analysis then considers the potential impacts on the focus area as a result of the anticipated changes. This synthesis is typically conducted by an interdisciplinary team which may also engage with stakeholders on the specific policy or management needs.  The assessment team draws information from the available literature, relevant research and modeling results, and the expertise of scientists.

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments

Vulnerability assessments go beyond impact assessments to determine a system's sensitivity and ability to adapt to climate change and may be used in place of or in addition to climate change impact assessments. Vulnerability is defined as the degree to which a human or natural system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, the adverse effects of climate change, including associated climate variability and extremes (1,2). A system's vulnerability is related to the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation that it is exposed to, as well as the system's sensitivity and capacity to adapt. Climate change vulnerability assessments generally quantify the sensitivity of a particular system to climatic changes (including increased climate variability), the degree to which a system may be exposed to changes in climate, and the potential adaptive capacity of the resource, sector, or landscape or region. Given concerns about the effects of climate change on natural and human systems, vulnerability assessments are increasingly common. The information and methods used to create these assessments vary widely across resources and sectors.

Climate Change in Natural Resource Assessments

Natural resource assessments generally describe the current condition of specific natural resources, and assess factors that are affecting the resource, with the goal of providing timely, relevant, and accessible information for decision makers and policy makers. In addition, some resource assessments may also quantify how those factors will affect the resource into the future.  These assessments are often part of a planning process where management for the next several years is to be determined. Climate change is now an additional dimension that is being included in many natural resource assessments, such as the Forest Service's Resource Planning Act (RPA) Assessments and the Ecoregional Assessments prepared by the Bureau of Land Management. Because these existing natural resource assessments reflect the individual management agencies and organizations objectives and needs, current approaches to adding climate change consideration into these assessments vary widely.

 

Publication date: 
Fri, 07/01/2011
References: 
  1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  2. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry, M.L., Canziani, O.F., Palutikof, J.P., vander Linden P.J., Hanson, C.E. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Metz, B., Davidson, O.R., Bosch, P.R., Dave, R., Meyer, L.A. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  4. Ryan, M. G.; Archer, S. R.; Birdsey, R. A.; Dahm, C. N.; Heath, L. S.; Hicke, J. A.; Hollinger, D. Y.; Huxman, T. E.; Okin, G. S.; Oren, R.; Randerson, J. T.; Schlesinger, W. H. 2008. Land Resources: Forest and Arid lands. In: Backlund, Peter; Janetos, Anthony; Schimel, David. 2008. The effects of climate change on agriculture, land resources, water resources, and biodiversity in the United States. Synthesis and Assessment Product 4.3. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Change Science Program: 75-120.
  5. Karl, T.R.; Melillo, J.M.; Peterson, T.C. 2009. Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. Cambridge University Press.
    http://www.globalchange.gov/publications/reports/scientific-assessments/us-impacts
  6. Fussel, H.M.; Klein, R.J.T. 2006. Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments: An Evolution of Conceptual Thinking. Climatic Change. 75(3):301-329.

     

How to cite: 

Joyce, Linda A.; Janowiak, Maria K. (July, 2011). Climate Change Assessments. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center. www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/assessments/introduction-to-assessments

Reading

Recommended Reading: 

National Research Council. 2007. Analysis of Global Change Assessments: Lessons Learned. Committee on Analysis of Global Change Assessments, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. (read online at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=11868)

National Research Council. 2009. Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate. Panel on Strategies and Methods for Climate-Related Decision Support, Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change. Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. (read online at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12626)

Links

Climate Change Impact Assessments

Synthesis

Synthesis: 

Preparers

Linda Joyce, Rocky Mountain Research Station, US Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO, and Maria Janowiak, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, US Forest Service, Houghton, MI.

Issues

Climate change impact assessments seek to characterize, diagnose, and project risks or impacts of environmental change on people, communities, economic activities, infrastructure, ecosystems, or valued natural resources (1). Impact assessments have been requested at the national scale by US Congress (2) through the Global Change Research Act of 1990 which requires the National Science and Technology Council to analyze effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems, and biological diversity. Assessments have also been requested at more local scales by city officials such as Aspen, Colorado (3). Non-governmental organizations have also identified the value of impact assessments (4).

Impact assessments are motivated by the users' information needs and can be developed in multiple ways. An analysis often begins by examining changes to temperature, precipitation, and other climatic variables under multiple scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions (5). The analysis then considers the potential impacts on a geographic area, economic sector, community, or resource in order to provide information to managers, decision makers or policymakers. These assessments can focus on the synthesis of scientific information and may also include extensive quantitative analysis using models to explore the effects of a number of potential future climates. The development of an assessment often will involve a dialogue between those conducting the assessment and stakeholders. The assessments can be periodic (e.g., 6) or a one-time assessment (e.g., 3). A technical review by a set of independent experts will ensure that the summary statements and conclusions are well-supported in the scientific research and well-documented in the report.

Key Features

Impact assessments are typically the work of an interdisciplinary team. Generally, objectives are identified in concert with the institution or organization requesting the assessment. The scope of impact assessments vary. For example, the United States Global Change Research Program has developed a wide variety of assessment products, including an impact assessment for the entire United States (2) as well as many topical assessments on the carbon cycle (7), impacts to ecosystems (8), and other subjects. Other examples include impact assessments for the state of Pennsylvania (4) and the area surrounding Aspen, Colorado, (3) both of which contain information on projected changes in climate as well as potential impacts to communities, ecosystems, and locally important recreational activities. The system boundaries of the assessment affect the uncertainty in the analysis. Limits (e.g., time, funding, data availability, computational capacity) may influence the boundary definition. Broadly defined system boundaries may result in higher degree of generalization of system dynamics, whereas narrowly defined boundaries, allowing more detailed analysis, may limit the number of system influences considered. The interdisciplinary team defines system boundaries that are most likely to maximize the informational and decision-making value of the assessment.

Typically, the interdisciplinary team will synthesize several types of information, including scientific information from field studies and experimental studies, modeling experiments, and the knowledge of individuals with expertise in the system. If an analysis is to be a part of the assessment, the team identifies which climate scenarios to use, and which response models (e.g., vegetation, water, wildlife) to analyze the impacts of the changes in climate. For example, the climate impact study for the State of Washington conducted an analysis of 20 global climate model projections for the Pacific Northwest area and explored the projections of two regional climate models (9). This type of analysis deepens the understanding of current climate and model capability to capture these dynamics, and provides a range of projected climates on which to base the impacts analysis. The types of models available to explore the effects of climate change on vegetation, wildlife, and water vary. They reflect the current capacity of the science to quantify such impacts. Qualitative or conceptual analyses are also useful to explore impacts. For example, interviews with stakeholders can help to identify the local effects of the changing climate and stressors interacting with those changes (10).

During the synthesis process, the authors will reach conclusions about the future climate and ensuing effects on the topics and area of interest. The authors can articulate a sense of the certainty of those conclusions as well as identify sources of irreducible uncertainty at present. The authors' confidence in the assessment conclusions are extremely valuable when included as part of the analysis The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has consistently refined its language to describe the certainty of the conclusions presented in its assessments. The 2007 IPCC reports were explicit about the language they used in describing uncertainty and levels of confidence in climate change (6, 11). The description of the author's certainty in the conclusions is a critical component of the assessment, especially when interacting with stakeholders.

The impact assessment may engage stakeholder groups to further broaden and deepen the key issues identified by those requesting the assessment (e.g. decision makers, policy makers, or managers). The engagement with stakeholders can occur through through mail or phone surveys, small workshops or public meetings. Stakeholders could include other public and private decision makers, resource and environmental managers, and the general public. Such discussions begin to bridge the scientific information with user needs and questions. These meetings can also be used as an initial opportunity for developing options to address the effects of climate change.

An independent review process ensures the scientific rigor of the impact assessment. Depending upon the nature and depth of the review, the process can be highly publicized with governmental oversight or more similar to a refereed journal review where the journal editor requests reviews by scientific peers. In both cases, the assessment authors must respond to the reviewers' comments in a revision. The process of developing the individual documents within the Fourth IPCC report involved several steps of review including two scientific reviews. For the 2007 IPCC Working Group I report, more than 30,000 comments were submitted by more than 650 individual experts, as well as governments and international organizations (6). Review editors were required to ensure that all substantive government and expert review comments received appropriate consideration.

Impact assessments offer fundamental scientific information about the potential consequences of climate change for a subject specified by the user. This information allows managers and decision makers to begin consideration of potential responses to these consequences. Typically these climate impact assessments have not included a full exploration of the capacity of the ecosystem or institution to cope or adapt to climate change nor have they included an exploration of potential management options. Vulnerability assessments can be used to explore capacity to adapt and management options, and may be used in place of or in addition to climate change impacts assessments.

Publication date: 
Fri, 07/01/2011
References: 
  1. National Research Council. 2007. Analysis of Global Change Assessments: Lessons Learned. Committee on Analysis of Global Change Assessments, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.
  2. Fussel, H.M.; Klein, R.J.T. 2006. Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments: An Evolution of Conceptual Thinking. Climatic Change. 75(3):301-329.
  3. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Available at http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg1.htm.
  4. Katzenberger, J., ed. 2006. Climate Change and Aspen: an assessment of potential impacts and responses. A report in the Aspen Global Change Institute Elements of Change series, AGCI. 
  5. Karl, T.R.; Melillo, J.M.; Peterson, T.C. 2009. Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. Cambridge University Press.
  6. King, A.W.; Dilling, L.; Zimmerman, G.P.; Fairman, D.M.; Houghton, R.A.; Marland, G.; Rose, A.Z.; Wilbanks, T.J., eds. 2007. The First State of the Carbon Cycle Report (SOCCR): The North American Carbon Budget and Implications for the Global Carbon Cycle. U.S. Climate Change Science Program Synthesis and Assessment Product 2.2. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, NC.
  7. [CCSP] Climate Change Science Program, 2008: The effects of climate change on agriculture, land resources, water resources, and biodiversity in the United States. A Report by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and the Subcommittee on Global Change Research. P. Backlund, A. Janetos, D. Schimel, J. Hatfield, K. Boote, P. Fay, L. Hahn, C. Izaurralde, B.A. Kimball, T. Mader, J. Morgan, D. Ort, W. Polley, A. Thomson, D. Wolfe, M.G. Ryan, S.R. Archer, R. Birdsey, C. Dahm, L. Heath, J. Hicke, D. Hollinger, T. Huxman, G. Okin, R. Oren, J. Randerson, W. Schlesinger, D. Lettenmaier, D. Major, L. Poff, S. Running, L. Hansen, D. Inouye, B.P. Kelly, L. Meyerson, B. Peterson, R. Shaw. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC., USA, 362 pp.
  8. Union of Concerned Scientists. 2008. Climate Change in Pennsylvania. Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists. (also available at http://www.climatechoices.org/)
  9. Climate Impacts Group 2009. The Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment. M. McGuire Elsner, J. Littell, and L. Whitely Binder (eds). Center for Science in the Earth System, Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.
  10. Laidler, G.A.; Ford, J.D.; Gough, W.A.; Ikummaq, T.; Gagnon, A.S.; Kowal, S.; Qrunnut, K.; Irngaut, C. 2009. Travelling and hunting in a changing Arctic: assessing Inuit vulnerability to sea ice change in Igloolik, Nunavut. Climatic Change (2009) 94:363-397
  11. Joyce, L.; Cross, M.; Girvatz, E. 2011. Addressing Uncertainty in Vulnerability Assessments [pdf]. In Glick, P., B.A. Stein, and N.A. Edelson, eds. 2011. Scanning the Conservation Horizon: A Guide to Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment. National Wildlife Federation, Washington, D.C. Pages 68-73.
How to cite: 

Joyce, Linda A.; Janowiak, Maria K. (July 01, 2011). Climate Change Assessments. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center. www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/assessments/impact-assessments

Reading

Recommended Reading: 

ACIA, 2004. Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. ACIA Overview report. Cambridge University Press. 140 pp.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2005. Guidance Notes for Lead Authors of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Addressing Uncertainties. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, Switzerland.

Joyce, L.A. 2003. Improving the flow of scientific information across the interface of forest science and policy. Forest Policy and Economics. 5: 239-247.

Joyce, L.A.; Birdsey, R. tech. eds. 2000. The impact of climate change on America's forests. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-59. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 133 p.

National Research Council. 2007. Analysis of Global Change Assessments: Lessons Learned. Committee on Analysis of Global Change Assessments, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies. The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C.

Tools

Tools: 

Many tools are available to help managers identify the potential impacts of climate change on natural resources and to incorporate climate change science into assessments and other documents. For more information on these tools, visit the Climate Change and Carbon Tools page.

Links

Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments

vulnerability assessments banner 705x80vulnerability assessments banner 705x80

M. Janowiak

Synthesis

Synthesis: 

Preparers

Linda Joyce, Rocky Mountain Research Station, US Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO, and Maria Janowiak, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, US Forest Service, Houghton, MI.

Issues

As knowledge about the effects of climate change grows, responses to climate change become more important to land managers (1, 2, 3). Climate change vulnerability assessments provide valuable information that can be used to develop management actions in response to climate change (4). These assessments synthesize and integrate scientific information, quantitative analyses, and expert-derived information in order to determine the degree to which specific resources, ecosystems, or other features of interest are susceptible to the effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability assessments recognize that a system's vulnerability is related to the nature, magnitude, and variability of climate change that it is exposed to, as well as the system's sensitivity to changes and its capacity to adapt.

Vulnerability assessments are increasingly being used to assess risks associated with climate change and natural and human systems (5). The information and methods used to create assessments vary widely across resources and sectors, although there are a number of notable similarities. Vulnerability assessments are often most valuable when they are "place-based" and tailored to best fit the resource or system of interest, the geographic scale and location of the analysis area, the available sources of information, and management issues or concerns (6). Because climate change assessments inform conservation or management actions, the tools developed to support the use of the assessment results should be tailored to the relevant geographic scales and decision levels (7).

Vulnerability assessments, like other climate change assessments, specifically work to recognize, evaluate, and communicate the uncertainties associated with climate change within a system or area of interest. While much is known about the effects of climate change at a global scale, the ability to analyze effects and vulnerabilities at the regional and local scales important to managers is more challenging and has a higher level of scientific uncertainty. Vulnerability assessments often use multiple scenarios of future conditions or other quantitative methods to explore areas of uncertainty and to evaluate impacts and potential management strategies against a range of plausible futures. Some recent assessments attempt to describe the uncertainty associated with the reports' conclusions (e.g., 8, 9).

Key Features

Vulnerability assessments typically contain a synthesis of the currently available scientific information to describe the degree to which the key resources, ecosystems, or other features of interest are affected (adversely or beneficially) by the variability of current climate or the potential changes in climate. The effect may be direct (e.g., reduced regeneration in response to increased temperatures) or indirect (e.g., damages caused by an increase in the frequency of wildfire or drought). The amount of information on climate change effects is constantly increasing so that this synthesis can be developed using a number of existing resources, including climate change impact assessments, peer-reviewed research papers, and other reports and resources.

Because existing information resources may not be able to fully describe the vulnerability for the specific area of focus, assessments can also include a more extensive quantitative analysis to explore a variety of future climates and their effects. New area-specific analyses can be used to enhance what is already known. A number of different quantitative approaches may be taken, such as simulation or statistical models, and will depend upon the feature of interest. The use of multiple scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions and multiple climate models can facilitate the exploration of a range of future climate conditions. Further, the use of multiple biological and ecological models can help to determine the range of sensitivity of and exposure of climate change to key resources.

Within the area of interest, human activities can both depend upon and influence natural systems. Describing the interactions of current stressors, such as land use change, with ecosystem dynamics and associated human systems will help establish the context in which the current and future effects of climate change may take place. Approaches to identify societal vulnerabilities to future changes in resources and ecosystems dynamics have used quantitative and qualitative methods (10, 11). Consideration of the societal implications of climate change can provide a broader view of management challenges posed by climate change and may begin a discussion of the role of communities in the context of changing resources and ecosystems.

Drawing upon the expertise of scientists, land managers, and stakeholders can enhance the quality and relevance of a vulnerability assessment. There will be multiple types and sources of information used in the vulnerability assessment, and this information will be integrated across the specific resources, ecosystems, or other features of interest. Scientists and managers can be assembled to use their place-based knowledge and experience to synthesize the existing and new information and identify the vulnerabilities for the features of interest. Expert-derived information is most valuable when qualified regarding the certainty, evidence, and underlying assumptions and reasoning (4).

Vulnerability assessments do not set priorities or make decisions for management action. Instead, they inform the development of management activities, such as where to focus management efforts or what items should be monitored (4). The assessment may identify where monitoring might be valuable to gain more information on the status of species or habitats and their responses to changes in climate. Additionally, the assessment may include information on adaptation options that may be available to managers.

Publication date: 
Fri, 07/01/2011
References: 
  1. Baron, J.S.; Gunderson, L.; Allen, C.D.; Fleishman, E.; McKenzie, D.; Meyerson, L.A.; Oropeza, J.; Stephenson, N. 2009. Options for National Parks and Reserves for Adapting to Climate Change. Environmental Management 44(6): 1033:1042
  2. Griffith, B.; Scott, J.M.; Adamcik, R.; Ashe, D.; Czech, B.; Fischman, R.; Gonzalez, P.; Lawler, J.; McGuire, A.D.; Pidgorna, A. 2009. Climate Change Adaptation for the US National Wildlife Refuge System. Environmental Management 44(6): 1043-1052
  3. Joyce, L.A.; Blate, G.M.; McNulty, S.G.; Millar, C.I.; Moser, S.C.; Neilson, R.P.; Peterson, D.L. 2009. Managing for Multiple Resources under Climate Change: National Forests. Environmental Management. 44(6):1022-1032.
  4. Glick, P., B.A. Stein, and N.A. Edelson, editors. 2011. Scanning the Conservation Horizon: A Guide to Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment. National Wildlife Federation, Washington, D.C.
  5. U.S. Global Change Research Program. 2011. The United States National Climate Assessment. Uses of Vulnerability Assessments for the National Climate Assessment. NCA Report Series, Volume 9. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC.
  6. Turner, B. L., II; Kasperson, R.E.; Matson, P.A.: , McCarthy, J.J.; Corell, R.W.; Christensen, L.; Eckley, N.; Kasperson, J.X.; ; Luers, A.; Martello, M.L.; Polsky, C.; Pulsipher, A.; Schiller, A. 2003. A Framework for Vulnerability Analysis in Sustainability Science. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 100(14): 8074-8079.
  7. National Research Council (NRC). 2007. Analysis of global change assessments: lessons learned. Committee on Analysis of Global Change Assessments. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  8. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Available at http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg1.htm.
  9. Joyce, L.; Cross, M.; Girvatz, E. 2011. Addressing Uncertainty in Vulnerability Assessments. In Glick, P., B.A. Stein, and N.A. Edelson, eds. 2011. Scanning the Conservation Horizon: A Guide to Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment. National Wildlife Federation, Washington, D.C. Pages 68-73. Available online at: http://www.nwf.org/vulnerabilityguide
  10. Preston, B.L.; Crooke, C.; Measham, T.G.; Smith, T.F.; Gorddad, R. 2009. Igniting Change in Local Government: Lessons from a Bushfire Vulnerability Assessment. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 14:251-283.
  11. Laidler, G.J.; Ford, J.D.; Gough, W.A.; Ikummaq, T.; Gagnon, A.S.; Kowal, S.; Qrunnut, K.; Irngaut C. 2009. Travelling and Hunting in a Changing Arctic: Assessing Inuit Vulnerability to Sea Ice Change in Igloolik, Nunavut. Climatic Change 94:363-397.
How to cite: 

Joyce, Linda A.; Janowiak, Maria K. (July 01, 2011). Climate Change Assessments. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center. www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/assessments/vulnerability-assessments

Reading

Recommended Reading: 

Glick, P., B.A. Stein, and N.A. Edelson, editors. 2011. Scanning the Conservation Horizon: A Guide to
Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment. National Wildlife Federation, Washington, D.C. Available online at: http://www.nwf.org/vulnerabilityguide

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2005. Guidance Notes for Lead Authors of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on Addressing Uncertainties. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, Switzerland. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/supporting-material/uncertainty-guidance-note.pdf.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007b. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Parry, M.L., Canziani, O.F., Palutikof, J.P., vander Linden P.J., Hanson, C.E. (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Available at http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg2.htm.

The Nature Conservancy. 2009. Conservation Action Planning Guidelines for Developing Strategies in the Face of Climate Change. http://conserveonline.org/workspaces/climateadaptation/documents/climate-clinic/documents/climate-change-project-level-guidance

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 2008. Compendium on Methods and Tools to Evaluate Impacts of, Vulnerability and Adaptation to, Climate Change. http://unfccc.int/adaptation/nairobi_work_programme/knowledge_resources_and_publications/items/2674.php

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2009. A Framework for Categorizing the Relative Vulnerability of Threatened and Endangered Species to Climate Change. National Center for Environmental Assessment, Washington, D.C.; EPA/600/R-09/011. http://www.epa.gov/ncea.

Willows, R.I. and R.K. Connell. (eds.). 2003. Climate Adaptation: Risk, Uncertainty and Decision-Making. UKCIP Technical Report. UKCIP, Oxford.

Research

Research: 

Climate Change Response Framework in Northern Wisconsin
This project provides information and resources to land managers throughout northern Wisconsin as they begin to incorporate climate change into land management planning and activities. A number of products have been created through this project to help bridge the gap between climate change research and on-the-ground management activities, including the creation of an Ecosystem Vulnerability Assessment and Synthesis for the forests of northern Wisconsin.
Contact: Chris Swanston, Maria Janowiak

Adapting to Climate Change in Olympic National Forest
The Climate Change Adaptation Case Study at Olympic National Forest, with Olympic National Park as a partner, had the objective of determining how to adapt management of federal lands on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington, to climate change. The case study process involved science-based sensitivity assessments, review of management activities and constraints, and adaptation workshops in each of four focus areas (hydrology and roads, vegetation, wildlife, and fisheries). The process produced concrete adaptation options for Olympic National Forest and Olympic National Park, and illustrated the utility of place-based vulnerability assessment and scientist-manager workshops in adapting to climate change.
Contact: David Peterson

Watershed Vulnerability Assessments on National Forests
Watershed vulnerability assessment as currently being developed in the Forest Service is a strategic assessment process that describes conditions, processes, and interactions at intermediate scales, adapting broad guidance, analysis, and approaches to ecosystem management to particular places at management-relevant scales. The draft assessment process was piloted on 11 National Forests in 2010. The goal of the pilot watershed vulnerability assessment was to quantify the current and projected future condition of watersheds as affected by climate change to inform management decision making.
Contact: Sarah Hines

Tools

Tools: 

Many tools are available to help managers incorporate climate change science into vulnerability assessments and other documents. For more information on these tools, visit the Climate Change and Carbon Tools page.

Climate Change in Natural Resource Assessments

M. Janowiak

Synthesis

Synthesis: 

Preparers

Linda Joyce, Rocky Mountain Research Station, US Forest Service, Fort Collins, CO, and Maria Janowiak, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, US Forest Service, Houghton, MI.

Issues

Natural resource assessments synthesize scientific literature on the current condition of species, ecosystems, or other natural resources of interest, with the objective of providing timely, relevant, and accessible information for decision makers and policy makers. In addition to peer-reviewed literature, these assessments may draw information from other documents, resource manager experience and expertise, local community and stakeholder input, and traditional ecological knowledge of indigenous peoples. The focus can be on a diverse set of ecosystems or a single ecosystem or species. The condition of the resource may be evaluated in light of its management, or in its ability to provide wood, subsistence needs, or other ecosystem services. Spatial scales of analysis can vary from the global, country (e.g., 1), state (e.g., 2, 3), and local (individual planning unit within federal or state agency) scales. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was conducted as a multi-scale assessment, linking assessments at local, watershed, national, regional and global scales (4).

Natural resource assessments often focus on the synthesis of scientific information and may also include extensive quantitative analysis. These assessments generally explore the effects of current stressors, such as invasive species, air quality or land use change. For example, the National Park Service natural resource condition assessments use existing data and may collect new site-specific data to provide a mix of new insights and useful scientific documentation about current resource conditions and some of the factors influencing those conditions (i.e., threats and stressors; 5). Additionally, some natural resource assessments (including the Resource Planning Act Assessment described below) also evaluate potential future resource conditions as affected by future changes such as land use and economic demands.

Natural resource managers address climate change as a stressor in their ongoing and periodic natural resource assessments. In some cases, legislation directs agencies to include climate change as a consideration. For example, in 1990, the Food Protection Act amended the Renewable Resources Planning Act (RPA) of 1974 to require USDA to assess the impact of climate change on the condition of renewable resources on all U.S. public and private forest and rangelands as part of the RPA Assessment (6). This Assessment periodically reports the status and trends of the renewable resources, including fish, wildlife, water, forests, range, wilderness, as well as the ability of those resources to provide outdoor recreation opportunities. Another example motivating federal agencies is the Executive Order (E.O.) 13514 Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance (7), signed in 2009, which expands the federal government's energy reduction and environmental performance requirements beyond that of E.O. 13423. Specifically, each Federal agency is required to evaluate agency climate change risks and vulnerabilities to manage both the short- and long-term effects of climate change on the agency's mission and operations. In 2011, the Council on Environmental Quality issued instructions to be used by Federal agencies in climate change adaptation planning (8) and these may influence how climate change is incorporated into natural resource assessments and plans.

Climate Change Integration in Natural Resources Assessments

There are varied approaches to incorporating climate change into periodic assessments and planning processes, and these continue to change over time (3, 9, 10). In some cases, a particular assessment product may be revised and additional material added as an appendix to start the process of incorporating climate change considerations. In other examples, an expanded analysis framework is developed for the periodic assessment (see RPA below), or new analysis approaches are developed (see Rapid Ecological Assessments below). Additionally, natural resource managers have initiated separate studies, outside of the periodic assessment process, on a geographic area or species to identify key vulnerabilities as well as potential management options for addressing climate change; these include climate change impact assessments and vulnerability assessments.

For some federal agencies, guidance is being developed to identify the approaches to incorporating climate change into natural resource management. Examples include the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management.

State Wildlife Action Plans varied greatly in their initial approaches (9) and several states have revised their initial plans to further incorporate climate change (3). For example, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries identified climate change adaptation strategies through a process that involved a series of workshops and partnering with the National Wildlife Federation and the Virginia Conservation Network.

All states have completed a State Forest Assessment and Resource Strategy in response to an amendment to the Cooperative Forestry Assistance Act, as enacted in the 2008 Farm Bill. While the states had much flexibility in approach, all assessments were to provide an analysis of forest conditions and trends, and delineate priority rural and urban forest landscape areas and issues. Threats to forests, such as climate change, were identified (2). The process for these assessments was synthetic and collaborative with partners.

The Rapid Ecological Assessments (REAs) developed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) synthesize the current information about natural resource conditions and trends within an ecoregion. BLM will use this information to inform local level environmental analyses and management planning. Climate change is one of the four key environmental "change agents," that will be quantitatively analyzed using a variety of approaches. The U.S. Geological Survey provided the climate scenario data. The REAs gauge the potential risks from these change agents which also include wildfire, invasive species, and development.

At the national level, the approach taken to include climate change into the 2010 RPA Assessment involves using scenarios to characterize the common demographic, socio-economic and technological driving forces underlying changes to natural resource conditions. Three scenarios were chosen that are linked to globally consistent and well-documented scenarios used in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment (11). The IPCC global data were scaled to the U.S. national level and subnational levels. The resources analyses for water, wildlife, forest condition, range condition, and recreation will use this climate and socio-economic scenario data as input to evaluate the sensitivity of resource trends to a feasible future range of these driving forces.

Publication date: 
Fri, 07/01/2011
References: 
  1. The Heinz Center. 2008. The State of the Nation's Ecosystems 2008. Island Press.
  2. National Association of State Foresters (NASF). 2010. Statewide Forest Resource Assessments and Strategies. http://www.stateforesters.org/issues_and_policy/forests_in_the_farm_bill
  3. Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA). 2009. Voluntary Guidance for States to Incorporate Climate Change into State Wildlife Action Plans and Other Management Plans [pdf]. Washington, DC: Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
  4. [MEA] Millennium Resource Assessment 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-Being. Summary for Decision Makers, Washington: Island Press. http://www.maweb.org/en
  5. National Park Service (NPS). 2011. NRCA Project Guidance and Reference Materials.
  6. Joyce, LA, Birdsey R, tech. eds. 2000. The Impact of Climate Change on America's Forests. RMRS-GTR-59. Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. 133 pages.
  7. Federal Energy Management Program, Executive Order 13514. Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, signed October 5, 2009, http://www1.eere.energy.gov/femp/regulations/eo13514.html
  8. Council on Environmental Quality, Climate Change Adaptation Planning, with links to the Federal Agency Climate Change Adaptation Planning Implementing Instructions document and the Support Document. http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/adaptation
  9. Joyce, L.A.; Flather. C.H.; Koopman, M. 2008. Analysis of Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Wildlife Habitats in the U.S. Analysis Report [pdf]. Final Report WHPRP. 69p.
  10. Pew Center. 2010. Climate Change Adaptation: What Federal Agencies Are Doing [pdf]. Arlington, VA: Pew Center on Global Climate Change. 43 p.
  11. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 2007. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M.Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA. Available at http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/ar4-wg1.htm.
How to cite: 

Joyce, Linda A.; Janowiak, Maria K. (July 01, 2011). Climate Change Assessments. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center. www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/assessments/natural-resource-assessments

Reading

Recommended Reading: 

Climate Change Adaptation: Strategic Federal Planning Could Help Government Officials Make More Informed Decisions. 2009. GAO-10-113. Washington, DC: Government Accounting Office

Climate Change Adaptation: Information on Selected Federal Efforts To Adapt To a Changing Climate. 2009. an E-supplement to GAO-10-113. GAO-10-114SP. Washington, DC: Government Accounting Office.

Research

Research: 

The Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program
Part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, supports research that addresses at a regional level the many complex climate issues relevant to decision-makers and policy planners. The RISA research team members are primarily based at universities though some of the team members are based at government research facilities, non-profit organizations or private sector entities. Traditionally the research has focused on the fisheries, water, wildfire, and agriculture sectors.

The National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA) Global Change Impacts and Adaptation program
This program assesses the potential vulnerability of EPA's air, water, ecosystem, and human health protection efforts to climate change, and other global change stressors such as land-use change. It assesses these vulnerabilities at the federal, regional, state, municipal, and tribal levels, and examines adaptation options to build resilience in the face of these vulnerabilities. The program is a part of the Office of Research and Development (ORD) Global Change Research Program within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Research studies often underpin modifications to current natural resource assessments. For current descriptions of related research, see the related links section, and the climate change pages for the agencies that are mentioned in the synthesis paper.

Tools

Tools: 

Many tools are available to help managers incorporate climate change science into natural resource assessments and other documents. For more information on these tools, visit the Climate Change and Carbon Tools page.

Links

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