The role of climate models in adaptation decision-making: the case of the UK climate projections 2009

  • Liam James Heaphy
Original paper in Philosophy of Science


When attendant to the agency of models and the general context in which they perform, climate models can be seen as instrumental policy tools that may be evaluated in terms of their adequacy for purpose. In contrast, when analysed independently of their real-world usage for informing decision-making, the tendency can be to prioritise their representative role rather than their instrumental role. This paper takes as a case study the development of the UK Climate Projections 2009 in relation to its probabilistic treatment of uncertainties and the implications of this approach for adaptation decision-making. It is considered that the move towards ensemble-based probabilistic climate projections has the benefit of encouraging organisations to reshape their adaptation strategies and decisions towards a risk-based approach, where they are confronted definitively with climate modelling uncertainties and drawn towards a more nuanced understanding of how climate impacts could affect their operations. This is further illustrated through the example of the built environment sector, where it can be seen that the probabilistic approach may be of limited salience for the urban heat island in the absence of a corresponding effort towards a more place-based analysis of climate vulnerabilities. Therefore, further assessment of the adequacy-for-purpose of climate models might also consider the usability of climate projections at the urban scale.


Climate models Uncertainty Decision-making Climate adaptation Built environment Urban heat island Downscaling 



Adaptation and resilience in cities: analysis and decision-making using integrated assessment


Adaptation and resilience in a changing climate


Climate change risk assessment


Cloud feedback model intercomparison project


Department for environment food, and rural affairs


ENSEMBLE-based predictions of climate changes and their impacts (full title)


General circulation model


Hadley centre climate model


Hadley centre regional model


Hadley centre slab model


Intergovernmental panel on climate change


Multi-model ensemble


National adaptation programme


Perturbed physics ensemble


Prediction of regional scenarios and uncertainties for defining european climate change risks and effects


Regional climate model


Special report on emissions scenarios


Thames estuary 2100


UK climate impacts programme


UKCIP 2002 climate change scenarios for the United Kingdom


UK climate projections 2009



My thanks to Wendy Parker, Joel Katzav, and the two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments and critiques, and to Suraje Dessai, for recommending my research to the guest editors for this special issue. This research was made possible through the financial and directive support of the Sustainable Consumption Institute’s former Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) at the University of Manchester, who funded the thesis on which this article is based.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sciences Po, médialabParisFrance

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