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WIREs Clim Change
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Climate projections and their impact on policy and practice

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This article examines the relationship between projections of climate change and the responses to those projections. First, it discusses uncertainty and its role in shaping not only the production of climate projections but also the use of these projections by decision makers. We find that uncertainty critically affects the way climate projections move from useful to usable, where usefulness is defined by scientists' perception of users' needs, and usability is defined by users' perception of what knowledge can be readily applied to their decision. From the point of view of the natural scientist, we pose that there is an uncertainty fallacy, that is, a belief that the systematic reduction of uncertainty in climate projections is required in order for the projections to be used by decision makers. Second, we explore the implications of climate projections for policy and decision making, using examples from the seasonal climate forecast applications literature as an analog. We examine constraints and opportunities for their application in policy and practice and find that over‐reliance on science and technical solutions might crowd out the moral imperative to do what is needed to improve livelihoods and to guarantee ecosystems' long‐term sustainability. We conclude that, in the context of high uncertainty, decision makers should not look for ‘perfect’ forecasts, but seek to implement knowledge systems that integrate climate projections with other kinds of knowledge and that consider the multiple stressors that shape their decision environment. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Figure 1.

Knowledge and uncertainty of that knowledge are both products of scientific investigation. Knowledge and uncertainty combine with values and political will to influence responses. Uncertainty always exists, and in complex problems, new investigation reveals new sources of uncertainty. Uncertainty reduction is uncommon. Uncertainty can always be used, politically, to fuel selective doubt to disrupt the development of knowledge‐based responses.

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Figure 2.

Climate‐change problem solving by reduction of problems along axes of time, spatial scale, and wealth. This reduction enhances communication between scientists and stakeholders and improves the likelihood of successful problem solving.

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The Social Status of Climate Change Knowledge > Climate Science and Decision Making
The Social Status of Climate Change Knowledge > Knowledge and Practice

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