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Climate prediction: a limit to adaptation?

Are effective adaptations to climate change tied to the availability of accurate and precise predictions of future climate? Climate modeling scientists often argued that quantifying the uncertainty and providing more accuracy and precision in predicting future climate is crucial to devise adaptation strategies. The consequence of this argument is that climate predictions are indispensible to effective adaptation decision-making and potentially a limit to adaptation.

In this important article a team of leading policy scholars concludes that adaptation need not be solely predicated on climate predictions and therefore adaptation efforts should not be limited by the lack accuracy and precision in our understanding of future climate conditions. Their case is based on the following three conclusions: (1) there is much evidence that climate is only one of many uncertain processes that influence society and its activities, (2) there are limitations to our ability to predict future climate (e.g., irreducible uncertainties, non-uniqueness of projections), and (3) there is a growing body of work in which alternative adaptation approaches are explored and evaluated without defining required levels of accuracy and precision of model predictions. 

An alternative to the climate prediction approach based on robust decision making is presented. These types of approaches seek adaptation strategies that are robust against a wide range of plausible climate futures. The authors suggest that decision makers systematically examine the performance of proposed adaptation strategies and policies over a range of plausible futures informed by uncertainty about the future climate and other economic, political and cultural factors. This approach is highly relevant to Texas where obvious investments in adaptation can be based on past experience with extremes in climate variability combined with the methodologies of robust decisions making described in this article.  

Source: Dessai, S., Hulme, M., Lempert, R. & Pielke, R. (2008) Climate prediction: a limit to adaptation? Living with climate change: are there limits to adaptation? (eds N. Adger, I. Lorenzoni & K. O’Brien). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


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