Climatic Change

, Volume 124, Issue 1–2, pp 39–52 | Cite as

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

  • Stephan LewandowskyEmail author
  • James S. Risbey
  • Michael Smithson
  • Ben R. Newell


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.


Temperature Response Climate Sensitivity Carbon Budget Precautionary Principle Mitigation Effort 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Preparation of this paper was facilitated by a Discovery Grant from the Australian Research Council, an Australian Professorial Fellowship, a Discovery Outstanding Researcher Award, and a Wolfson Research Merit Award from the Royal Society, to the first author, by a Future Fellowship from the Australian Research Council to Ben Newell, and funding from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence in Climate Systems Science. The work was also supported by a Linkage Grant from the Australian Research Council and a grant from the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and the CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship. We thank four reviewers for their incisive critique and helpful comments. Correspondence to the first author at the School of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, 12A Priory Road, Bristol BS8 1TU, United Kingdom ( Personal web page:


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephan Lewandowsky
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • 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

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