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Climate pp 89-122 | Cite as

Adaptation as a Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty

A Unique Challenge for Policymakers?
  • N. Ranger
Conference paper
Part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security book series (NAPSC)

Abstract

Climate change will fundamentally alter the nature of climate risks that we face as a society. The only viable approach to limit the impacts of climate change is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. But, due to the lags in the climate system, the world is already committed to further changes from historical emissions alone. The only way to reduce the impacts of this unavoidable climate change is through adaptation. Adaptation brings with it both new and old challenges for decision makers. This chapter describes the major new challenge introduced by climate change as deep uncertainty about the future evolution of climate. This means that policymakers can no longer rely on traditional approaches for managing uncertainty. The past can no longer be assumed to be an adequate guide to the future. Not considering the true nature of the uncertainties in decision making today can lead to maladaptations, putting lives at risk, and wasting investments. Long-term investments and policies, like public infrastructure and sectoral planning, with long lead times and high sunk costs, have the highest potential for maladaptation. Not considering long-term climate risks from the outset in these decisions can lock-in future vulnerability and unnecessary costs. This chapter suggests that, despite these challenges, in many cases, adaptation will be no more difficult than many other areas of public decision making. Many elements of adaptation plans, particularly in the near-term, are not necessarily highly sensitive to climate change uncertainties. Further, for long-term decisions, through employing a broad range of adaptation measures, considering flexibility up front, and sequencing measures to best cope with uncertainty, it is possible to build robust adaptation plans. By employing such principles in planning from the outset it is possible to reduce risk today and maintain flexibility to cope well with future climate changes.

Keywords

Flood Risk Storm Surge Adaptation Option Epistemic Uncertainty Flood Risk Management 
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.

Notes

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to acknowledge the co-authors of the 2010 report Adaptation in the UK: A decision making process, funded by the Adaptation Sub-Committee, from which many of the concepts and examples in this chapter are drawn; Antony Millner, Simon Dietz, Sam Fankhauser, Ana Lopez, and Giovanni Ruta. Thanks also to Tim Reeder, Jonathan Fisher, Jim Hall, Bill Donovan, and Mark Ellis-Jones for information on the TE2100 project; to Dave Stainforth and Lenny Smith for helpful discussions on uncertainty; and to the Secretariat of the Adaptation Sub-Committee, in particular, Sebastian Catovsky, Neil Golborne, Steve Smith, and Kiran Sura. Ranger was supported by funding from the UK Economics and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Munich Re as part of the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment & the Centre for Climate Change Economics and PolicyLondon School of Economics and Political ScienceLondonUK

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