Does climate change require new approaches to making decisions?
Is the way we currently plan for the future and react to unexpected change sufficient to accommodate the uncertainty, scale, long lead time, and complexity associated with climate impacts?
As a result of the unprecedented rate of human-induced climate change, there is now widespread consensus that unless a range of adaptation efforts are embraced, the risks posed by climate change on people and ecosystems are likely to be more disruptive and damaging. The question policymakers, planners, and investors are increasingly facing is: is the way we currently plan for the future and react to unexpected change sufficient to accommodate the uncertainty, scale, long lead time, and complexity associated with climate impacts? For example, do current decision - making processes allow an energy planner in South America take into account future glacial meltwater loss that may not manifest itself for years - when planning new hydroelectric plants to meet future electricity needs?
|Sector||Examples of Decision Types that will Need to Incorporate Short- and Long-term Climate Risks|
|Natural Resources Management||
The arguments in favor of new decision-making practices revolve primarily around the distinctive characteristics of the climate change problem itself and the perceived inadequacies in current planning processes. Impacts are not only unique in time and space, but also can present conditions never experienced before. Even though some impacts will not be felt for several decades, there is the need to address the risks they may present well in advance of their onset. In addition, the uncertainty, the surprises, and the heightened change and variability posed by climate change can present significant challenges to existing modes of planning and policymaking.
The nature of possible interventions themselves also poses challenges to decision makers. Some will be controversial, especially when faced with balancing short- and long-term goals. Interventions could also result in unintended, unanticipated results, and yet due to the irreversible nature of some potential climate impacts, the decision maker has little opportunity to retry solutions. The lack of any central decision-making authority for climate change in some governments themselves may also hinder effective preparation for climate risks.
On the other hand, the unique characteristics of climate change risks may be overstated or misrepresented. A number of other environmental challenges, such as the persistence of toxics or ecosystem degradation, also have long-term consequences that are difficult to fully predict or anticipate, and yet do not seem to pose great obstacles to decision makers. Other potential disruptions, such as those posed by earthquakes, present significant uncertainty and require upfront investments, and decision-making processes have been established to contend with such risks.
From this perspective, the major difference between addressing climate risks and other problems is perhaps a matter of scale, with climate change manifesting itself globally and across all sectors. Additionally, one might argue that since climate change has been recognized as a problem for over 20 years (to one degree or another), many decision-making processes have already had the opportunity to begin to incorporate climate risks. Instead of a failure of decision- making processes themselves, perhaps a lack of institutional capacities (especially for implementation) or other factors may explain why some governments are relatively farther along than others.
Or perhaps it is simply too early to tell. Given that most adaptation efforts are in their infancy, we need more operational history before we are able to judge whether new processes for decision making in a changing climate are necessary.
These differing viewpoints raise important questions for discussion: are current decision-making practices used by governments able to incorporate the long-term nature, surprises, heightened change and variability, and the uncertainty of a changing climate, or does such decision making require an entirely new approach? If so, what needs to change? And why? If not, how should current practices be harnessed to plan for and react to climate risks today and in the future?
- Expert Perspectives on...
- Does climate change require new approaches to making decisions?
- How can we balance today’s pressing needs with long term risks?
- How can development agencies help vulnerable countries adapt effectively?
- Must we fundamentally change course to conserve ecosystems in a changing climate?
- How can information for adaptation decision making be collected and disseminated so as to advance integration of climate risks into plans and policies and be useful for those who need it most?
- What types of information are needed for adaptation decision making?
- Thought leaders explore how to meet both today’s development challenges and tomorrow’s climate risks.
- How can national-level governments learn from the private sector and encourage investment and decision making to promote the public good in a changing climate?
- How can civil society best support, and hold accountable, national-level governments in their efforts to integrate climate change risks into planning and policy-making processes?
- Case Studies
- Controlling Yangtze River Floods: A New Approach
- Building Resilience to Extreme Weather Events: Index-Based Livestock Insurance in Mongolia
- Namibia: Combating Land Degradation with Tools for Local-Level Decision-Making
- Nepal: Responding Proactively to Glacial Hazards
- Increasing Food Security: Mali's National Meteorological Service Helps Farmers Manage Climate Risk
- Indonesia: Managing Peatland Fire Risk in Central Kalimantan Province
- Mangrove Restoration and Rehabilitation for Climate Change Adaptation in Vietnam
- Bangladesh's Comprehensive Approach to Disaster Management
- Rwanda: Ecosystem Restoration and Sustainable Hydropower Production
- South Africa: Ecosystem-Based Planning for Climate Change
- China's Agricultural Development: Adaptation in Action
- Brazil: Fire and Flood Responses in the Amazon
- In-Country Simulations
- Decision-Making In Depth
These commentaries were commissioned by the World Resources Report to react to the Expert Perspectives series. Below each paper in the series you will find a comment box for your feedback. Please respond.
- Ian Burton A question is addressed to four authors: “Is the way we currently plan for the future and react to unexpected change sufficient to accommodate the uncertainty, scale, long lead time, and complexity associated with climate impacts?” This is a commentary I have been invited to make on all four papers collectively.
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- Tony La Viña This edition of the World Resources Report is a timely initiative to assess the decision-making process in climate change. The authors should be congratulated for sharing their views and insights on said topic. Undoubtedly, these efforts make an excellent contribution to the discourse and practice of climate change policy.
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- Neil Adger Adapting to the impacts of climate change is a challenge to the organisation of government, as highlighted in many of the commentaries here. But it is also a challenge to governance - in other words to the way governments act and to their remit of responsibility for action to manage risks across society.
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- Paul Steele The papers presented focus on institutional aspects of climate adaption and crucially distinguish between increased climate variability and slow onset climate change.
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- Marcus King I largely agree with the authors who find that current decision-making practices used by governments are unable to incorporate the long-term nature, surprises, heightened change and variability, and the uncertainty of a changing climate. My comments explore two points related to governmental responses to climate change.
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