Past fossil fuel use has conferred a complex mixture of benefits and risks on current and future generations. While enabling a tremendous growth in prosperity, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions may contribute to irreversible changes. For example, the Greenland Ice Sheet might disintegrate in response to anthropogenic climate forcings. The resulting sea-level rise would create serious risks for the sustainability of low-lying regions in the United States and beyond. Managing climate risks has already motivated local, national, and global actions: utilities replace coal-fired power plants with gas turbines, engineers design sea-walls for future climates, companies sequester carbon dioxide into geological reservoirs, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office has assessed possible geoengineering approaches. These actions raise the question: what are sustainable, scientifically sound, technologically feasible, economically efficient, and ethically defensible climate-risk management strategies? Answering this question is nontrivial for several reasons. First, it transcends the traditional boundaries between academic disciplines as well as between academia, industry, government, and nongovernmental organizations. Second, choosing a strategy involves complex trade-offs across a large range of temporal and spatial scales. Third, this is a problem imbued with deep uncertainty where decisionmakers disagree about the appropriate problem framing, model structure, parameter values, and objectives. Characterizing and representing this deep uncertainty is critical. For example, analyses under different ethical frameworks can suggest strongly divergent strategies. Current analyses of climate-risk management strategies have typically used integrated assessment models that link knowledge and tools from fields such as Earth system science, engineering, economics, decision analysis, operations research, and statistics. These integrated assessments have broken important new ground, but they face severe limitations with respect to four interrelated research questions: (i) How large are the uncertainties? (ii) What might be actionable early warning signals? (iii) What are the trade-offs between the diverse set of current and potential future objectives? (iv) What are the relevant value decisions and how do they affect the conclusions? Analyzing these questions requires fundamental advances in the relevant disciplines, an effective, large-scale, and sustained network to link them together, a research-training program to educate the next generation of scientists and engineers, and an integration of stakeholders and decisionmakers within a process of shared discovery. This research network on sustainable climate-risk management strategies will provide these advances and address these research questions.
The research network will catalyze fundamental, mission-oriented, and transdisciplinary research to characterize the trade-offs associated with choosing among climate-risk management strategies and analyze how different sustainability criteria interact across a broad range of temporal and spatial scales. More broadly, the network will (i) train the next generation of diverse scientists and engineers through an international and multi-institutional research, education and mentoring program, (ii) provide cyber-infrastructure to support transdisciplinary and computationally intensive research collaborations using high-performance computation, new models, and analysis tools that are accessible via a web interface, (iii) bring together experts across disciplines in workshops, (iv) integrate a diverse set of stakeholders and decisionmakers into the analyses, providing them with decision-relevant information, and (v) reach out to educators, decisionmakers, underrepresented groups, and the general public through cyber-infrastructure resources and interactive teaching materials.