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Abrupt Climate Change: Inevitable Surprises
ten highly skewed climate-related variables, current practices can be misleading and result in costly errors.
The potential for abrupt climate change and the existence of thresholds for its effects require revisions of our statistical estimates and practices.
INVESTIGATE “NO-REGRETS” STRATEGIES TO REDUCE VULNERABILITY
Recommendation 5. Research should be undertaken to identify “no-regrets” measures to reduce vulnerabilities and increase adaptive capacity at little or no cost. No-regrets measures may include low-cost steps to: slow climate change; improve climate forecasting; slow biodiversity loss; improve water, land, and air quality; and develop institutions that are more robust to major disruptions. Technological changes may increase the adaptability and resiliency of market and ecological systems faced by the prospect of damaging abrupt climate change. Research is particularly needed to assist poor countries, which lack both scientific resources and economic infrastructure to reduce their vulnerabilities to potential abrupt climate changes.
Social and ecological systems have long dealt with climate variability by taking steps to reduce vulnerability to its effects. The rapidity of abrupt climate change makes adaptation more difficult. By moving research and policy in directions that will increase the adaptability of economic and ecological systems, it might be possible to reduce vulnerability and increase adaptation at little or no cost. Many current policies and practices are likely to be inadequate in a world of rapid and unforeseen climatic changes. Improving these policies will be beneficial even if abrupt climate change turns out to fit a best-case, rather than a worst-case, scenario. Societies will have “no regrets” about the new policies, because they will be good policies regardless of the magnitude of environmental change. For example, the phaseout of chloroflourocarbons and replacement by gases with shorter atmospheric lifetimes have reduced the US contribution to global warming while at the same time reducing future health risks posed by ozone depletion.
In land-use and coastal planning, managers should consider the effects on ecosystem services that could result from interaction of abrupt climate changes with changes caused by people. Scientists and government organi-