The Bush administration has taken an important step toward better understanding global warming, but the president's policies lack "a guiding vision" and do little to help state and local officials cope with mounting problems associated with climate change, according to a new study by the National Academies.
The report, released yesterday, offers a mixed assessment of the administration's efforts to address global warming and its decision not to join with the European Union, Japan, Canada and others in imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases that many scientists blame for Earth's rising temperature.
For example, the study commends the administration for trying to devise a strategic plan that stresses cutting-edge scientific research to better understand global warming. But it says the administration's draft plan has serious gaps in dealing with the effects of climate change on societies and the ecosystem, and that it does little to help state and local officials deal with flooding and coastal erosion in the East and drought in the West, which may be linked to global warming.
"The draft plan lacks most of the basic elements of a strategic plan: a guiding vision, executable goals, clear timetables and criteria for measuring progress," the report says. The panel that wrote the report also notes that President's Bush's 2004 budget request "appears to leave funding relatively unchanged" for the administration's initiatives, despite pledges to increase it.
Thomas E. Graedel, a Yale professor of industrial ecology and chairman of the National Academies committee, said: "While past climate-change science has focused on how climate is changing and affecting other natural systems, future science must also focus on more applied research that can directly support decision-making."
Committee member Michael J. Prather, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, said the administration must do a better job of defining its goals and mission.
Administration officials and industry representatives stressed yesterday that the draft document, unveiled in December at a conference, had been hastily assembled to spur discussion and comment, and that a final policy would not be agreed to until April. The administration had formally requested the report from the National Academies' National Research Council, the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.
"I don't minimize at all the talk about the need to sharpen the strategic plans and improve the management goals," said James R. Mahoney, deputy administrator of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. "At the same time, the academy commends the program for undertaking this challenging task" of rewriting national global warming policy.
William O'Keefe of the pro-industry George Marshall Institute praised the report as a sign of the administration's "outreach to the broader scientific community." But Eileen Claussen, head of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and a critic of the administration's approach, said: "It's not clear what this plan will accomplish, and there's not enough emphasis on the regional impact of global warming -- both economic and environmental."