How can we balance today's pressing needs with long term risks?
How can public officials, especially in low income countries, address today’s short- term pressing needs while preparing for tomorrow’s climate-related impacts and surprises?
Government officials at the national level charged with incorporating climate change risks into plans and policies face a daunting array of challenges.
The world is already experiencing early impacts of climate change in physical, hydrological and ecological systems, exacerbating enduring development challenges. Even if the global community commits to substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, significant impacts will continue long after atmospheric concentrations of these gases have stabilized. The impacts of climate change are predicted to grow in frequency and strength and compound one another. Under such circumstances, government officials will face increasingly difficult decisions on how to prioritize interventions to address climate change, spur economic growth, and meet social and political objectives.
Decision makers will face a continual balancing act, contending with short-term development challenges and climate risks while at the same time preparing adequately for future needs and risks, some of which are uncertain and will only manifest themselves in decades to come. To do this effectively will require early planning and proactive decision making, approaches which human society has historically found difficult to embrace and implement. To date, our decision-making processes have often been slow to react to, learn from, and foresee change.
The most vulnerable countries face the greatest difficulties. With few resources, their governments must not only deal with multiple near-term development challenges but also consider long-term policy objectives to address future climate-related, and other, risks.
How are decision makers, especially in low income countries, to address pressing needs today while preparing for climate-related surprises and eventual impacts? If decision makers are motivated to incorporate long-term climate risks into decisions only when there is a reasonable certainty that risks will materialize, action may come too late and opportunities to manage some impacts may have passed. This is particularly problematic in vulnerable countries, where economic growth and development goals are unlikely to be achieved if future climate risks are not also taken into account in the near term.
Some illustrative examples of the dilemmas facing decision makers in balancing short-term and long-term risks include:
- There is a high probability that sea level rise will pose significant risks to many coastal communities in the future. How should decision makers prioritize among various policy objectives and approaches, especially if resources are limited? For example, should they cease development of coastal areas and relocate communities at risk, or develop coastal areas with early warning systems and greater resilience to withstand sea level rise and fiercer storms? At what point are the risks great enough that they should choose the former policy over the latter?
- Rainfall in the Sahel region of Africa may increase or decrease in the next several decades, and there is still uncertainty with regard to where and when those changes may occur. But the consequences, no matter what the timing, location and direction of the impacts, are huge for an area already suffering from food security problems and for which agriculture is still a significant part of many nations”™ GDPs. How should a decision maker prepare for eventual changes in variability and mean climate, especially when resources are limited and the decision maker is facing urgent needs today?
In addressing the question at the top of this prompt, we ask authors to discuss how decision makers can balance the need to address short-term and long-term policy making objectives. Below are some issues you may wish “” but are not obliged - to consider or incorporate in formulating your response.
- Examples of the kinds of interventions that fulfill both short-term and long-term policy making objectives.
- Situations in which decision makers might prioritize mitigation of short-term risks over addressing long-term policy objectives.
- Examples of conditions in which long-term investments of scarce resources to adapt to future long-term, high consequence impacts might be justified, and of hurdles that might block the prioritization of such investments and actions.
- Types of economic or other incentives that could be used to foster decision making that balances short-term and long-term priorities. (For example, changes to cost-benefit analysis, discount rates and other economic tools).
- Other types of tools that might aid decision makers in considering risks that will manifest themselves long after they have left their positions.
- Means of engaging the public and civil society engage in weighing short-term and long-term policy/planning objectives, and determining acceptable risks.
- Informative examples of any parallels in other areas of risk management that can inform those charged with prioritizing among short-term and long-term climate-related decision making.
- 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.
- Shardul Agrawala Policy makers worldwide continue to search for solutions to pressing development challenges such as persistent poverty, malnutrition and economic stagnation. The social impacts of such problems are typically all too evident, as is the need for policy responses.
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- Gary Yohe I write in response to five papers that were, in turn, written to respond to a specific but very broad prompting question:
How can public officials, especially in low income countries, address today's short- term pressing needs while preparing for tomorrow's climate-related impacts and surprises?
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- Nicola Ranger Decision making in a changing climate is a crucial and timely issue for the World Resources Report and I particularly welcome the focus on least developed countries, where the number of applied case studies on adaptation decision making to date have been limited. The five authors each provide a unique perspective and I think make a valuable contribution to the discourse.
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