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New report on uncertainty and climate change adaptation
Posted by Jeroen on Friday, December 21 2007 @ 15:34:19 CET
News and announcements Copernicus Institute Utrecht University and Tyndall Centre for climate change research issued a new report reviewing state-of-the-art of methods and tools available in the literature in helping inform adaptation decisions under uncertainty. The report reviews existing frameworks for decision making under uncertainty for adaptation to climate change. It explores how different ways of including uncertainty in decision making match with uncertainty information provided by various uncertainty assessment methods. It reviews a broad range of areas of climate change impacts and impacted sectors of society and economy that may require a response of planned adaptation.

Decision frameworks and analysis tools can roughly be grouped into two schools of thought: the predictive top-down approach and the resilience bottom-up approach. Some mixed approaches are also discussed. The difference between top down and bottom up is in the direction in which the causal chain is followed in the reasoning: Top down starts from the top by exploring the accumulation of uncertainty from each step going from emission scenarios, to carbon cycle response, to global climate response, to regional climate scenarios to produce a range of possible local impacts in order to quantify what needs to be anticipated. Bottom up starts at the bottom: the impacted system and explores how resilient or robust this system is to changes and variations in climate variables and how adaptation can make the system less prone to uncertain and largely unpredictable variations and trends in the climate.

Much more attention has been given to the prediction oriented (top-down) approach.Various tools, techniques and methods used in the various steps of climate change impact and adaptation assessments were reviewed. A range of strategies to account for uncertainty in decision making and frameworks for decision making under uncertainty of relevance for adaptation decisions has been identified, ranging from 'acceptable risk' based approaches to precaution, resilience and adaptive management. Further, a collection of tools has been identified for uncertainty analysis of relevance for informing adaptation decision making processes and discourses. Both for the frameworks for decision making under uncertainty, and for the tools for uncertainty assessment, it has been mapped how well each of them can cope with three levels of uncertainty distinguished in the report: statistical uncertainty, scenario uncertainty and recognized ignorance. Roughly, the top down - prediction oriented approaches are strong in statistical uncertainty and the resilience and robustness type of bottom up approaches are strong in coping with recognized ignorance and surprises. An essential first step in the selection of an appropriate decision making framework and appropriate methods for uncertainty analysis for a given climate adaptation decision making problem will thus be a well argued judgment on the policy-relevance of each of the three levels of uncertainty - along with a judgment of their relative importance - to the particular decision making problem at hand.

The various uncertainty assessment tools where further mapped to the various frameworks for decision making under uncertainty in an overview table, indicating methods that are key for a given decision making framework, methods that are complementary to a given framework and methods that do not match a given framework.

A hypothetical case-study sketches how these tools might be applied in practice. The case study highlights a remarkable difference in uncertainty range for precipitation changes between the latest Dutch KNMI scenarios and results from a perturbed physics ensemble using a general circulation model. The report recommends that a plurality of approaches (using both top down and bottom up) need to be tried in different contexts in order to learn what works and what doesn’t. A few niches in the field of uncertainty and climate change adaptation can be further explored, amongst others: robust decision making methods, development of indicators for measuring resilience, development of a catalogue of wild cards and imaginable surprises. Further the report recommends that the policy relevance of uncertainty related to the differences in predicted uncertainty range by different methods (as the one identified in the case study) need to be further explored and discussed in the climate adaptation community.

Click here to download the full report



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