Climate modelling, uncertainty and responses to predictions of change

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Abstract

Article 4.1(F) of the Framework Convention on Climate Change commits all parties to take climate change considerations into account, to the extent feasible, in relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions and to employ methods such as impact assessments to minimize adverse effects of climate change. This could be achieved by,inter alia, incorporating climate change risk assessment into development planning processes i.e. relating climatic change to issues of habitability and sustainability. Adaptation is an ubiquitous and beneficial natural and human strategy. Future adaptation (or, better, adjustment) to climate is inevitable at the least to decrease the vulnerability to current climatic impacts. The urgent issue is the mismatch between the predictions ofglobal climatic change and the need for information onlocal to regional change in order to develop adaptation strategies. Mitigation efforts are essential since the more successful mitigation activities are, the less need there will be for adaptation responses. Moreover, mitigation responses can be global (e.g. a uniform percentage reduction in greenhouse gas emissions) while adaptation responses will be local to regional in character and therefore depend upon confident predictions of regional climatic change. The dilemma facing policymakers is that scientists have considerable confidence in likely global climatic changes but virtually zero confidence in regional changes. Mitigation and adaptation strategies relevant to climatic change can most usefully be developed in the context of sound understanding of climate, especially the near-surface continental climate, permitting discussion of societally relevant issues. Unfortunately, climate models cannot yet deliver this type of regionally and locationally specific prediction and some aspects of current research even seem to indicate increased uncertainty. These topics are explored in this paper using the specific example of the prediction of land-surface climate changes.