Climatic Change

, Volume 124, Issue 1, pp 39-52

First online:

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

  • Stephan LewandowskyAffiliated withUniversity of Western AustraliaUniversity of Bristol Email author 
  • , James S. RisbeyAffiliated withCSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research
  • , Michael SmithsonAffiliated withAustralian National University
  • , Ben R. NewellAffiliated withUniversity of New South Wales

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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.