The US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) has announced a call for author nominations (due Saturday, November 14, 2020) for the 5th National Climate Assessment (NCA). Gregg Garfin, UArizona Associate Professor/Extension Specialist, University Director, Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center, and Deputy Director for Science Translation and Outreach, Arizona Institutes for Resilience, reflects here on his experiences heading extraordinary teams of authors on the Southwest chapter of the 3rd (2014) and 4th (2018) NCAs. He notes the challenges and rewards of participation in the creation of these authoritative documents. Garfin wrote:
What first impressed me was the rigor of the process. In a 24-month period, the 4th National Climate Assessment (NCA4) went through an 8-step review, including reviews by the public, federal agencies, the National Academies, technical staff, and USGCRP. Each review required that the authors provide a detailed response for every review comment, in addition to editing and rewriting text. The reviews are overseen by a Review Editor, whose job was to ensure that the responses really answered the reviews’ questions; it was not a rubber stamp process.
The process is intense. You have barely enough time to recover from submitting one set of review responses and a new draft, when a new review is in sight. NCA4 included five draft manuscripts. So, you always need to stay on top of your game—between communication with co-authors and NCA leadership, reading up on the latest literature, and revising drafts. The NCA is an authoritative source, because so many eyes are on it—which strengthens the findings but also tempers them—the NCA will never be the source of radical or cutting-edge pronouncements.
Second, the process is remarkable for its collegiality and camaraderie. You get to work with superb scientists—all leading experts in their disciplines. The NCA4 included multiple author meetings, which were essential to developing a sense of trust. The meetings were also important for sparking ideas on how to best communicate, in the most succinct way, a tremendous amount of complex information on various aspects of climate science and impacts in various sectors. The complexity also refers to the ways climate changes interact with non-climate factors, like ecosystems, public health, economics, the condition and integrity of infrastructure, public preparedness for disasters, and public policy—it’s extremely hard to convey all of that succinctly!
Third, the experience is noteworthy for inspiring learning. Of course, you learn so much from your chapter co-authors, and from interacting with authors working on other chapters; the NCA4 process ensured that we coordinated and communicated with the leads from other relevant chapters, such as those focused on public health, forests, transportation, and urban and built environments. We also learned tremendously from the multiple reviews. Sometimes, reviewers made suggestions, such as highlighting the aridification of the Southwest, that influenced direction of future drafts. Other times, they took us to task for lack of precision, which meant that we really needed to dive deeply into the peer-reviewed literature. With NCA4, a couple of review comments on text about climate change and Southwest snowpack in our second draft prompted me to reread and closely review around 30 papers on the topic, and to consult with several key researchers, all in the service of refining the precision of our statements in a couple of paragraphs in the final chapter. It was an awesome experience that I hadn’t anticipated—great learning.