Climatic Change

, Volume 124, Issue 1, pp 39–52

Scientific uncertainty and climate change: Part II. Uncertainty and mitigation

  • Stephan Lewandowsky
  • James S. Risbey
  • Michael Smithson
  • Ben R. Newell

DOI: 10.1007/s10584-014-1083-6

Cite this article as:
Lewandowsky, S., Risbey, J.S., Smithson, M. et al. Climatic Change (2014) 124: 39. doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1083-6


In public debate surrounding climate change, scientific uncertainty is often cited in connection with arguments against mitigative action. This article examines the role of uncertainty about future climate change in determining the likely success or failure of mitigative action. We show by Monte Carlo simulation that greater uncertainty translates into a greater likelihood that mitigation efforts will fail to limit global warming to a target (e.g., 2 °C). The effect of uncertainty can be reduced by limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Taken together with the fact that greater uncertainty also increases the potential damages arising from unabated emissions (Lewandowsky et al. 2014), any appeal to uncertainty implies a stronger, rather than weaker, need to cut greenhouse gas emissions than in the absence of uncertainty.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephan Lewandowsky
    • 1
    • 2
  • James S. Risbey
    • 3
  • Michael Smithson
    • 4
  • Ben R. Newell
    • 5
  1. 1.University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia
  2. 2.University of BristolBristolUK
  3. 3.CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric ResearchHobartAustralia
  4. 4.Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  5. 5.University of New South WalesSydneyAustralia