, Volume 108, Issue 4, pp 733-743,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 24 Sep 2011

The latest iteration of IPCC uncertainty guidance—an author perspective


The latest iteration of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) uncertainty guidance is simpler and easier to use than the previous version. However, its primary focus remains assessing “what is at risk” under climate change, thus is most suitable for dealing with the scientific uncertainties in Working Group I and part of Working Group II findings. I distinguish between tame and complex risks, arguing that the guidance is most suited to assessing tame risks. Climate change is a complex risk, and as such as can be divided into idealized, calculated and perceived risks. While science has claims to objectivity, risk has a specific value component: when measuring gain and loss, calculated risks compete with risky options to manage those risks. The IPCC is charged with calculating risk (IPCC 2007, p22) but the communication of key findings takes place in an environment of competing perceived risks. Recommendations for managing this complex environment include separating scientific and risk-based findings, treating uncertainties for each separately; strengthening the philosophical basis of uncertainty management; application of a methodical scientific research program; clearly communicating competing findings, especially in the social sciences; and application of multiple frame to policy-relevant findings as reflected in the literature.