Workshop: Uncertainty in the science and the implications for climate change adaptation

Convenor: Jean Palutikof, NCCARF

Managing Climate Change: Uncertainty and action

Traditionally, in carrying out research on human-induced climate change (global warming) and its impacts, scientists have followed a linear pathway of activity, starting from the specification of greenhouse-gas emissions, and finishing up with the impacts and possible response strategies. From the perspective of those working at the end of this chain, i.e., policy- and decision-makers, the problem is that each step in the chain has an associated uncertainty.

End users find this mode of expression around uncertainty hard to deal with in their thinking around actions on climate change.  They seek firm numbers, at clear time points and fine spatial scales, around the amount of warming and the associated effects on other climate variables such as rainfall, wind and windstorm.  This is not something that science can deliver. Moreover, the absence of this precision can provide a justification for inaction.

This desire for certainty as a prerequisite for action flies in the face of human experience. As a species, we have always been able to make decisions and plan for the future in the context of uncertainty in fields as diverse as defence, finance and insurance.

Convened by Professor Jean Palutikof, Director of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility,  this workshop will bring together climate change scientists with end users for discussion around the premise that decision makers will never have complete and accurate information around future climate change and its impacts and that, as a result, it will be necessary to take decisions around climate change adaptation under conditions of uncertainty.

The workshop will:

  • Review the state of the science from the perspective of uncertainty;
  • Provide a platform for end users to express their needs and concerns;
  • Review the methodologies and tools for decision making in the absence of climate change;
  • Discuss the potential to apply these tools in the context of climate change;
  • Establish the emerging research needs in this space;
  • Look at the potential for NCCARF to contribute to the identification of solutions through its Synthesis and Integrative Research Program.