Will Congress Allow NOAA to Help Meet the Increasing Demand for Climate Information?

Written by Adriana Cerbin on . Posted in Act, Learn, The Wonk Room

Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing regarding the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s proposal to open a Climate Service line office, a new division within NOAA, to provide scientific assistance to farmers and managers of fisheries, water supplies, and transportation systems among others to help them better prepare for and manage the risks of changes to our planet.

This proposal, which we blogged about back in February, would allow NOAA to strengthen science and more efficiently provide climate information, but it has met a roadblock in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the 2011 funding bill passed this spring, Congress adopted a rider that bars NOAA from moving forward with this effort for the remainder of the fiscal year that ends in September.

Last Wednesday’s hearing revealed that the majority in the House Science Committee is concerned that the re-organization is politically motivated. This misses the point: there is growing demand for information about future climate impacts, so that land and water managers and other affected parties can better prepare for shifts in average temperature and precipitation that are already noticeable. NOAA simply wants to improve science while increasing the efficiency of information to the people who would most benefit from it and could benefit our economy and national security by knowing such information.

Not only would NOAA’s proposal allow for reorganization without additional dollars from the taxpayer, but it will also maximize organizational efficiency and possibly create an entirely new job sector based on climate information. With the current state of the economy, it only makes sense to support a proposal that will enhance climate knowledge, more efficiently use taxpayer funding, and create jobs.

Climate information will become increasingly important as we realize the true impacts of climate change. Home builders, electric providers, local health departments, local governments, insurance companies, firefighters, and the USDA – among many others – currently use climate information on a consistent basis to make better informed economic, health, and infrastructure planning decisions that ultimately affect the American public. This list of users is steadily climbing and along with this, so are requests for climate information.

The U.S. Navy is one such user that relies on this information for everyday decisions. At the hearing, the Deputy Oceanographer of the Navy, Mr. Robert Winokur, noted the Navy’s need for actionable climate information to plan for naval requirements in the 21st century. Winokur noted that current conditions of polar regions are being altered by melting sea ice and the changing Arctic will affect naval missions later this decade. Future climate changes will also require additional planning and changes to naval missions, including those affecting national security.

Currently, NOAA is not as efficient as it could be regarding its climate change work, and creating a Climate Service line office would help it eliminate many of those inefficiencies. NOAA’s reorganization proposal would allow for it to improve efficiency by creating one centralized location for information acquisition while maintaining the highest standards of scientific integrity and advancing research in order to better meet future demands.

It is no small feat providing accurate and timely climate information to a variety of customers. NOAA wants to continue playing that very important role. The agency is only asking for a chance to do it better.

What can you do to help? Check out the Climate & You section of NOAA’s Climate Services web site for information on the services climate research and information provides to you, whether you are part of the agricultural sector, health or energy and transportation industries, part of a coastal community, or just interested in maintaining clean drinking water. Tell us in the comments section below (or by submitting your own climate story) what sector or topic you relate to most. And, use your outside voice to let your elected officials know that NOAA’s Climate Service is important to you.

Adriana Cerbin works on U.S. climate policy at The Nature Conservancy

Photo is a linked screen capture of NOAA’s Climate Services site. You can click the photo to access the site.

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