In This Issue
Winter Issue of The Bridge on Frontiers of Engineering
December 25, 2021 Volume 51 Issue 4
The NAE’s Frontiers of Engineering symposium series forged ahead despite the challenges of the pandemic, with virtual and hybrid events in 2021. This issue features selected papers from early-career engineers reporting on new developments in a variety of areas.

President's Perspective Climate Change: A Defining Challenge for Science, Engineering, and Medicine

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Author: Amanda C. Staudt and John L. Anderson

Nations gathered at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow ( last month to grapple with the devastating global impacts of climate change. How we minimize the impacts going forward and how we adapt to the changes in ways equitable to all humans and other living things that share this planet are the defining questions of our time.

Tackling climate change requires leveraging the science and engineering enterprises broadly—in academia, government, private industry, and civil society—to identify and develop solutions that draw from diverse expertise and address needs across all sectors. This requires a convergence of knowledge across the breadth of physical and social sciences, engineering and technology, and health and medicine. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are taking steps to launch a new climate center in order to draw on leaders from all these areas to address the climate crisis.

The National Academies have a rich history of studies on climate change, dating back to the 1970s. The 1979 report Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment[1] includes some of the first estimates of how much warming could be expected from a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This short document served as a touchstone for early research and political action to address climate change.

In the decades since, other National Academies reports have helped to establish climate change as a national issue, resolved long-standing questions about the science, defined the urgency of understanding the short- and long-term impacts of climate change, and charted ways to prepare for and respond to climate change. This work has been requested and used by elected leaders across the political spectrum, has shaped US and international investments in research, and is increasingly being used by industry to make difficult business decisions and guide research and development to innovate solutions.

Most recently, the 2021 National Academies report Accelerating Decarbonization of the US Energy System[2] is an example of the interdisciplinary expertise that can and must be brought to bear on climate change issues. The report identifies both technology goals, such as carbon-free electricity and new transmission infrastructure, and socioeconomic goals related to jobs, equity, and inclusion, as well as potential impacts on communities and businesses—all of which must be considered in tandem to make needed progress. A summary of relevant National Academies studies and other activities is available online (

The unprecedented global challenges now posed by climate change require new approaches commensurate with the scale, scope, and complexity of the problems. To meet these challenges, the National Academies’ new climate center will convene the best minds from all technical sectors to explore numerous relevant dimensions of climate change and provide independent, ­evidence-based guidance to all levels of society. The center will encourage and enable transdisciplinary studies and activities, quickly marshal the energy and intellect of critical thinkers as needs arise, and support sustained engagement with decision makers from local to international scales. It will also create a platform to move our advice into action by all sectors of society.

As the consequences of climate change continue to become more apparent, the nation and the world will face new challenges that require innovative responses on a more rapid time scale. Because climate and our planet with all its living things are very complex systems of systems, responding to climate change will require weighing trade-offs, some with significant social and political implications. Trusted technical analysis will be essential input to these decisions. The new climate center will enable the National Academies to continue to be the go-to place for trusted technical assessments and recommendations for action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. You will hear more about the center as plans develop.

[1] ­climate-a-scientific-assessment

[2]­ decarbon ization-of-the-us-energy-system

About the Author:Amanda Staudt is senior director of the Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) and Polar Research Board (PRB), National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. John Anderson (NAE) is president of the National Academy of Engineering.