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Winter 2009/2010
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"Crossing Borders"
A column by Doug Richardson,
Executive Director, Association of American Geographers


GIScience and Climate Change

photo of Doug RichardsonGeographers and GIScientists have long played key roles in climate change research, and the tools and methods of geography—including GIS—will be crucial to understanding, limiting, and adapting to climate change in the decades ahead.

After years of delay and denial, responsible climate change research and responsive policy agendas are now assuming center stage in President Barack Obama's administration. Nearly all federal agencies now have legacy or newly mandated and funded research programs that actively seek to identify causes and impacts of global climate change and policies for mitigating or adapting to these impacts. Geography and GIScience, with long experience in the integration of the physical and social sciences, offer a well-placed bridge that can bring together the disparate natural and human system elements of climate change research and policy.

The U.S. Congress is now poised to undertake debate and potential definitive legislative action on several major climate change bills during the spring of 2010, precisely during the time frame of the AAG's upcoming Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. For these reasons and more, "Geography and Climate Change" has been designated as the key overarching theme of the AAG's Annual Meeting to be held April 1418, 2010. Both the timing and the venue of this particular AAG Annual Meeting afford to geographers and GIS specialists around the world a uniquely significant opportunity to showcase the potential contributions of geography and GIS to climate change research and to engage and influence U.S. and international policy on climate change at a critical juncture in its formulation. This will be a most meaningful moment for the geography and GIS community to interact with federal agency researchers and U.S. national policy makers on perhaps the most consequential issue of our generation, both at the AAG meeting itself and throughout the city, including on Capitol Hill.

The AAG currently has invitations pending to several high-level Obama administration officials to attend and speak at our AAG gathering, expected to number 7,000 attendees. Based on the responses we have received to date, we anticipate that numerous senior climate change officials and scientists will be in attendance and that the dialog at this meeting will provide an important national and international forum for addressing and moving forward key science and policy dimensions of the climate change issue.

Many special sessions on climate change at the meeting will bring together top scientists and climate change policy leaders to explore coordination and synergy of climate change research and mitigation programs across multiple government agencies and enhance collaboration among governmental researchers and policy makers, university researchers, private-sector GIS firms, and educators.

For example, the Opening Keynote Session of the AAG Annual Meeting will focus on America's Climate Choices, a major ongoing National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study in which geographers and GIScience have played a central role. This study will be released just prior to the meeting, and this special opening session will be one of the first public presentations of the study's results. A primary goal of the NAS America's Climate Choices study is to address cross-cutting science and technology challenges involved in understanding our climate and to identify effective steps and promising strategies that can inform and guide the nation's responses to climate change.

Geography and GIScience are exceptionally well represented in the NAS study, with three of the study's four investigative panels led or co-led by geographers and many other geographers involved in key components of the research. Presenters at this AAG presidential session on America's Climate Choices will include Diana Liverman of the study's Informing Decisions panel, Marilyn Brown of the Limiting Emissions panel, Tom Wilbanks of the Adapting to Impacts panel, and Billie Lee Turner of the Advancing Science panel. Other geographers and GIScientists involved in the NAS study include Ruth DeFries, Bob Kates, Susi Moser, Jim Buizer, and Linda Mearns.

Dozens of other sessions addressing geographic dimensions of climate change will be held at the AAG's Washington, D.C., meeting. These include, among many others, discussions of three new AAG programs focused on climate change education and teaching; perspectives on the use of GIS in climate change regulatory and enforcement strategies, including cap and trade scenarios; a 10-year retrospective analysis of the AAG's Global Changes, Local Places research program and publication, with implications for current policy and research in the climate change field; and several sessions sponsored by U.S. federal agencies on fostering interagency synergies and coordination of climate change programs. Numerous other sessions will cover the full gamut of current climate change research, ranging from carbon sequestration and climate change modeling to vulnerability analyses and social equities of climate change control and adaptation policies.

I encourage geographers and GIS specialists from around the globe to bring to the fore their research, GIS applications, and perspectives on climate change during the coming pivotal months of this debate. The AAG's Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., may well represent the most important time and place for geography to engage and influence the far-reaching science and public policy (and inherently geographic) decisions now coming before us on the issue of climate change.

Doug Richardson
drichardson@aag.org

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