Lima: Climate scientists discuss risk amid uncertainty

By Ramesh Jalan

On Wednesday  a side event at the Lima Climate Change Conference focussed on challenges of making climate projections and linking damages from extreme weather events to changing emissions. Moderated by Leo Hickman, Met Office Hadley Centre,  UK, the event titled Climate Change Science Update: The Challenges for Robust Decision Making, also discussed risk management in the face of uncertainty; and the ethics of loss and damage.

Peter Stott, Met Office Hadley Centre, explained that attribution science that takes into account human activity can be used by decision makers in national planning processes. He described the science, highlighting that scenarios from the “real world” are compared to scenarios from a climate not influenced by human activity.

Elizabeth Kendon, Met Office Hadley Centre, described high resolution spatially-detailed models which help to illustrate climate change events, noting that these will better predict change over time. She said the results of the models are currently being used in the UK to help provide better information to decision makers on potential future risks.

Petra Tschakert, Pennsylvania State University (PSU), US, noted that the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) considers multidimensional vulnerability, explaining that this is linked to social frameworks where the more vulnerable have less capacity and fewer opportunities to adapt. She highlighted new qualitative modelling based on quantitative data, as well as value judgements, to demonstrate scenarios where adaptation is possible.

Nancy Tuana, PSU, explained that as different countries set standards on dealing with climate risk, they should consider that there are value judgments embedded in both the science and the politics of climate change. She underscored gathering information on what the wider community values, and then engaging with the decision makers to model various scenarios that should be considered when creating strategies to manage risk.

Allen Thompson, Oregon State University, spoke on ethics, loss and damage, and event attribution, calling for loss and damage to be considered as separate from adaptation as, among others, residual loss and damages occur beyond the limits of adaptation. Speaking on climate justice, he noted that event attribution raises the “specter of liability,” further noting that claims for compensation often rest on “distributional justice.” He said that building institutions will require unprecedented levels of international repair, and that moral repair involves victim identification and making amends.

Claudia Murray, University of Reading, gave examples from Latin America of mitigation measures in natural resources and urban planning and development. She described rural indigenous communities forced to migrate to urban areas where governments provide them with sub-standard housing and living conditions. She attributed the mushrooming of these unsustainable housing blocks to “bad politics” and the construction industry lobby, and called for better land policies as well as more effective tools to distribute the value of natural and urban resources.

In the discussion, participants considered:

  •   The measurement of large-scale changes in relation to local changes in climate;
  •   Value judgements as part of target-setting; the place for geo-engineering in risk discussions;
  • Shifting the discussion from adaptation to survival;
  • The importance of user-friendly science for communities; and
  • The need to understand the political situation in order to present the most influential science to decision makers.

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(Dr Ramesh Kumar Jalan is the Resource Person and Moderator of the Climate Change Community of Practice, Solution Exchange, UNDP, New Delhi)