9 December 2019

AGU Revises Climate and Data Position Statements: Declares World in Climate Crisis and Reaffirms Data as a World Heritage

Posted by Chris McEntee

In a revised climate position statement released today, based on the overwhelming research and scientific evidence, AGU is declaring the world to be in a climate crisis. In a concurrent updated data position statement, AGU describes scientific data as a world heritage and calls for a culture that supports, enables, and nurtures data that is equitable, accessible, and ethical.

AGU position statements articulate the views of our community on key issues, help inform the organizational stance on timely policy issues, and are referenced by the media, policymakers, and other Earth and space science organizations. Every four years, AGU’s Position Statement Committee reviews the existing statements and decides which should be reaffirmed, retired, or revised. It also considers any proposals for new position statements that our members may have submitted.

In 2019, the Position Statement Committee decided that that our understanding of the science and impacts of climate change and how to treat scientific data and promote open science had evolved significantly enough to require revisions of AGU’s stance on these issues. Two writing panels and panel chairs were chosen—one for data and one for climate change—with an eye toward diversity of expertise, geography, career stage, and gender. Those panels worked through the summer to prepare draft texts of the new statements. Feedback from AGU members was solicited and received in September and October, and the committees considered the hundreds of comments received in preparing the final position statements. In November, after a review by the Position Statement Committee, the AGU Council and then the AGU Board approved both revised position statements.

We decided to release the two position statements to coincide with the opening day of AGU’s Fall Meeting 2019, which is occurring simultaneously with the United Nations Climate Convention Conference of the Parties (COP25) in Madrid, Spain. Today, climate writing panel members Donald Boesch and Robert Kopp and I met with reporters in the Fall Meeting press room to talk about the new statements.

Climate Position Statement: “Society Must Address the Growing Climate Crisis Now”

The revised climate position statement opens: Immediate and coordinated actions to limit and adapt to human-caused climate change are needed to protect human and ecological health, economic well-being, and global security.”

The position statement lays out, as succinctly as possible since the process requires a two-page limit, the Challenge, the Evidence, the Predictions, the Consequences, and the Needed Responses to the climate crisis. It emphasizes the role of human activities in causing the impacts and related hardships associated with climate change, along with the need for serious action. It also states that “[D]one strategically, efficiently, and equitably, the needed transformations provide a pathway toward greater prosperity and well-being, while inaction will prove very costly for humans and other life on the planet…These actions must involve individuals, communities, businesses, governments, acting at local, regional, national, and global scales.”

Also, regarding our role as the scientific community: “Scientists and engineers must continue to engage with policy makers, communities, businesses, and the public to undertake solution-oriented research and analysis. Scientific institutions, including academia and governmental agencies, should expand and prioritize their support for research, application, and knowledge dissemination to address the climate crisis.”

Significant progress has been made in our understanding of current and past climate change since the previous climate position statement was adopted in early 2013, and there have also been major international discussions and agreements. The 15 scientists on AGU’s climate panel decided to frame the new statement around the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) goals of keeping temperature increases to no more than 2 degrees Celsius by mid-century. The resulting statement describes the challenges and needed responses to meet those goals, by accurately explaining the evidence, predictions, and both near term and future consequences of the climate crisis. The term “climate crisis” was chosen and discussed deliberately, because as one panel member explained, “if this isn’t a crisis, I don’t know what is.” However, the panel strived to highlight the hope and myriad opportunities that come by standing together to pursue climate action.

The statement can be found here.

We also thank the climate panel members:

  • Donald Boesch (Chair), University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science
  • Amy Snover, College of the Environment, University of Washington
  • Bob Kopp, Rutgers University
  • David Easterling, National Climatic Data Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Drew Shindell, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
  • Scott Mandia, Suffolk Community College
  • Gerald Meehl, Climate Change Research Center, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Heidi Cullen, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
  • John Balbus, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
  • Mele Wheaton, Stanford Woods Institute of the Environment, Stanford University
  • Scott McGrane, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow (United Kingdom)
  • Susan Trumbore, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry (Germany)
  • Thomas Knutson, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, NOAA

Data Position Statement – “Supporting Data as a World Heritage”

AGU’s revised statement on data reaffirms that “Earth and space science data are a world heritage, and an essential part of the science ecosystem.” The statement calls upon all those engaged in advancing the scientific enterprise—from researchers, to funders, to institutions—to take measures to “ensure that relevant scientific evidence is processed, shared, and used ethically, and is available, preserved, documented, and fairly credited.”

The revised statement also provides best practices for working with and sharing data, methodologies to balance data accessibility with preservation, and a basic framework designed to drive a culture change with respect to data management in the Earth and space science community through comprehensive community education and training.

In view of the immense changes in data generation, processing, and availability over the past four years since the AGU data position statement was last revised, the panel faced a major task in its rewrite. They decided to broaden the scope of the statement, because of the importance and interconnection with data, software, samples, materials, and research workflows making the topic increasingly complex. By focusing on the larger data ecosystem, the panel wanted to make the point that data doesn’t stand alone. The resulting statement focuses on three key sections: working with and sharing data, enabling a robust data ecosystem, and the need for real culture change around data.

The statement can be found here.

We also thank the data panel members:

  • Kathy Fontaine (Chair), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Wade Bishop, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • Helen Glaves, UK Research and Innovation (United Kingdom)
  • Simon Goring, University of Wisconsin–Madison/ University of British Columbia (Canada)
  • Jessica Hausman, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • Simon Hodson, Committee on Data for Science and Technology (France)
  • Sarah Jones, Digital Curation Centre (Scotland)
  • Mark Parsons, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Pedro Luiz Pizzigatti Corrêa, University of São Paulo (Brazil)
  • Julian Reyes, U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Karen Stocks, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
  • Elisha Wood-Charlson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory