Approaching the Design of a National Climate Service: A Public Sector Focus
Masters Thesis Abstract
Seema Balwani

The case for the creation of a National Climate Service (Service) can be made on many levels, but foremost is the need to connect the scientific/technical community that produces climate change forecasts with user communities, in order to incorporate forecasts into actual decision-making and planning processes.  This must be done in a coordinated fashion at two levels.  At the national level, strong scientific leadership, strong policy leadership, and centralized management of climate information would be required.  At the regional level, regional teams prepare the forecasts for use and prepare the users to use them, taking into account societal contexts, local issues and perceptions, and local procedures.  Forecasts have potential value, or utility, when various communities use them to plan, adjust or adapt their activities.   These users, or “clients,” could come from a variety of sectoral regions, including agriculture, forestry, water resources, marine resources, and public health.  The teams must have the flexibility to interact with a full array of stakeholders ranging from industry personnel to governmental officials and non-profit workers.  The teams should provide for a comprehensive interpretation of impacts.

At the moment, no such service exists anywhere in the world.  The National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), which operates under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service, provides the United States with climate forecasts, but what is missing is instruction on how best to use these probabilistic forecasts and interpret them with regard to sectoral-specific regionally-based impacts.  There is a need to provide the user community with the capacity to incorporate forecasts into its short and long term decision-making processes.  Education and training are components of capacity building, but also important is a feedback loop that allows the forecasting community to learn what users need.  Stream flow analysis is available now, for instance, but what additional products would best serve the needs of natural resource managers?  Another aspect of the feedback loop is monitoring the levels of use to which forecast are put.  Ideally, the Service should not only provide the information, but assist in demonstrating the increased utility and value of forecasts for the end users.  To do this, the thesis proposes four functions a Service would be required to accomplish in light of the current context of U.S. climate change research and applications activity.

The thesis then examines three case studies of organizations that have attempted to forge the connection between forecasters and forecast users.  A set of evaluative criteria is proposed, and the case studies are analyzed based on their program performance.  The first two case studies are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Global Programs (OGP) and the International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI); their design structures and experiences with pilot projects have relevance to national concerns as well as international ones.   The third case study, the Climate Impacts Group (CIG) at the University of Washington, is co-sponsored by the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Oceans (JISAO) and the School of Marine Affairs (SMA), and works on a regional basis in the Pacific Northwest of the United States as part of OGP’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Program (RISA).  From lessons drawn out of these case studies, design principles and a structure for a Service are introduced, with the hope that the principles could apply internationally as well.