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BOX 3.1

Adaptive Risk Management: Iterative and Inclusive Management of Climate Risks

Because individuals and groups often have trouble making sound decisions in the face of uncertainty, many tools have been developed to enhance our ability to make decisions in the face of risk (Bernstein, 1998; Jaeger et al., 2001). This suite of tools and the logic of their application are often referred to as adaptive risk management or sometimes iterative risk management or risk governance (Arvai et al., 2006; Renn, 2005, 2008). Components of adaptive (or iterative) risk management are discussed in the following paragraphs and are developed in more detail in the companion report Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (NRC, 2010b).

Risk identification, assessment, and evaluation. Risks need to be evaluated by a range of affected stakeholders (who typically have different values and preferences) and by considering a range of factors. These include the impacts of allowing risks to go unmitigated, the costs of different risk-management strategies, and public perceptions and acceptability of risks and/or responses to those risks, as well as broader societal values that tend to favor certain general approaches to managing risk over others (e.g., a precautionary approach versus a cost-benefit or risk-benefit approach).

Iterative decision making and deliberate learning. Because many climate-related decisions will have to be made with incomplete information, and new information can be expected to become available over time (including information about the effectiveness of actions taken), decisions should be revisited, reassessed, and improved over time. This will require deliberate planning and processes for “learning by doing,” as well as ongoing monitoring and assessment to evaluate both evolving risks and the effectiveness of responses.

Maximizing flexibility. Whenever decisions with long-term implications can be made incrementally (i.e., in small steps rather than all at once), the risk of making the “wrong” decision now can be reduced by keeping as many future options open as possible.

  • Develop, through research on human behavior and decision making itself, improved decision-making processes.

The discussion in the preceding section suggests that the climate is not a system that can be turned quickly and that responses to climate change may be necessary even as more information on risks is collected. Fundamentally, dealing with climate change requires making decisions without complete certainty. Under such conditions, adaptive risk management (Box 3.1) is a useful—and advisable—strategy for responding to climate-related risks as conditions change and we learn more about them.



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