Undermining the Importance of the U.S. Global Change Research Program Efforts to Address Climate Change

The U.S. Global Change Research Program “USGCRP’s Role” webpage (shown on the left) became a restricted access page after March 5, 2018 (shown on the right). 

Welcome! This post is part of the EDGI Website Monitoring Team’s “Change of the Week” blog series. The purpose of this series is to highlight interesting changes we have observed in the language used on, or access to, federal websites. We want to share these changes to encourage public engagement with and discussion of their significance, as well as understanding of the ephemeral nature of website information. This week’s change occurred in March 2018 and features the restriction of information about the role of the U.S. Global Change Research Program. We first reported on this change in our whitepaper The New Digital Landscape: How the Trump Administration Has Undermined Federal Web Infrastructures for Climate Information

What happened? In March 2018, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), a program coordinating 13 federal agencies to study global change, restricted access to the webpage describing its role in addressing climate change, “USGCRP’s Role,” and removed the section describing USGCRP’s role on its “Understand Climate Change” webpage.

Why we think it is interesting: The U.S. Global Change Research Program is mandated by Congress to coordinate and facilitate collaboration among federal agencies to research global change, and to publish a National Climate Assessment every four years. The “USGCRP’s Role” page explained more about the specific charge of the program with respect to addressing climate change. The page had referenced President Obama’s 2013 Climate Action Plan, which President Trump rescinded in early 2017, but rather than editing the page, the Trump administration removed the entire page from public view.

This website change is a small example of several attacks on the USGCRP by the Trump administration. The average budget for the program fell from ~$330 Million annually during the Obama administration to less than $240 Million annually during the Trump administration (with the FY2021 budget request dropping to  $217 Million). In addition to slashing budgets, the Trump administration also undercut the potential impact of the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) by releasing it on Black Friday of 2018, one of the slowest news days of the entire year. While information about NCA4 can easily be found on the website, the USGCRP’s “What We Do” webpage states that the most recent NCA was released in 2014, the year that NCA3 was published. Just last month in November 2020, well into the planning stages for the Fifth National Climate Assessment (expected to be released in FY2022), the Trump administration fired the scientist overseeing the NCA and appointed two climate skeptics to steer it instead. TheTrump administration has deeply damaged the federal climate science enterprise and national climate change response, creating critical needs for the Biden administration to immediately address.

The Biden administration is prioritizing repair of this damage, demonstrated by appointing climate-focused leaders across the Cabinet, and particularly by appointing two senior climate officials: Gina McCarthy to orchestrate the U.S. domestic climate agenda and John Kerry to reestablish participation and leadership in international climate policies. McCarthy and Kerry both have extensive expertise in developing policies to address climate change. EDGI’s work has shown widespread and severe attacks on public climate change information, undermining public knowledge and civic engagement regarding climate change. We look forward to the new climate team’s concerted attention to the climate crisis, along with the opportunity to share with them the reductions in public information from federal environmental agencies that EDGI has documented over the past four years.