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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change CHAPTER FOUR Resources for Effective Climate Decisions What tools are useful in informing decisions about climate change? This chapter discusses how decisions regarding complex organizational, institutional, and individual choices are generally made and places climate-related decisions within that framework. While the America’s Climate Choices (ACC) Advancing the Science of Climate Change (NRC, 2010b) discusses the state of the science of decision making and the latest research on decision support, this chapter focuses on specific resources and tools, ranging from simple maps and graphs to more complex models, that are used in decisions and actions about climate change (see Table 4.1). Of course, many actors make many climate-relevant decisions without the aid of complex tools. Some decisions are made through the use of sophisticated or data rich computer-based decision-structuring techniques, but others are made through informal methods that might include conversations with experts, personal opinions about costs and benefits, or fragmented and incomplete information that may or may not be relevant to the local situation. In formulating courses of action, people and organizations respond to many different kinds of signals, including evidence of institutional norms of conduct, social influences, and relatively simple but persuasive information products derived from scientific research. Decision tools generate results based on the assumptions and data, which will vary depending on the user. For example, models that estimate the costs of climate change that heavily discount future values tend to produce results with lower costs and less urgency for immediate action, and graphs that only show short-term trends and variability may suggest lower risks than those with longer time scales. Those who hold doubts about the necessity of taking action to reduce emissions or invest in adaptation may rely on tools that include assumptions that minimize the risks and costs of climate change and on scientific literature that supports these assumptions. In contrast, those who are more concerned to act may select tools that allow for the exploration of possible extreme changes or place a high value on future damages. These choices are easily illustrated by how different decision makers interpreted the model results published in the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change (Stern, 2007). Figure 4.1 shows the model-based estimates of average global losses in income per capita using several sets of assumptions, including (a) whether climate
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change FIGURE 4.1 The impact of climate change on global GDP per capita. SOURCE: Stern (2007). has a medium (baseline) or high sensitivity to greenhouse gas emissions, (b) whether impacts are only those which can be monetized (market impacts) or whether non-market impacts such as loss of species are included, and (c) whether there is a risk of rapid climate change (risk of catastrophe) or if climate will change slowly. The graph also includes a shaded area that represents the probabilities (or chance) of impacts from a 5 to 95 percent level. A conservative interpretation of this graph, a decision support tool in itself, might select the baseline climate, where only market impacts and the lower end of the probability of impact such that the loss of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2200 would be less than 5 percent. However, a decision maker who is worried about high climate sensitivity and the chance, however small, of serious impacts, would conclude that the costs could be as high as 35 percent of GDP per capita. The varying interpretations of such graphs and model outputs are one of the sources of disagreement about how to respond to climate change. In addition, when the Stern Review summarized the damages, future damages were not discounted, estimating them at up to 14.5 percent of future consumption. Conversely, those who consider it more rational to discount
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change future costs would conclude that damages would only be about 4.2 percent (at a 1.5 percent discount rate).1 The debates over the Stern Report are more than academic because the analysis became the basis for the U.K. government’s decisions about emission reduction targets and adaptation policy. What the case illustrates are the enormous challenges in providing clear and useful support tools for decision makers, and the importance of transparency about the assumptions that underpin the results. WHOSE DECISIONS? WHICH RESOURCES? As chapters 1 and 2 make clear, informing climate-related decisions involves many kinds of activities, products, and services, including identifying decision makers’ information needs, producing decision-relevant knowledge and information, creating information products based on this information, disseminating these products, and encouraging and facilitating their use. Because responding to climate change necessitates so many different decisions, many groups in society can benefit from decision support tools, including officials in the executive branch of government, members of Congress, agency personnel at federal, state, and local levels, and persons in leadership positions in large corporations, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. They also include residents of communities and neighborhoods, households, and individuals. Decision support tools and resources must thus be adapted for a broad range of decision makers and decision-related challenges. Additionally, strategies to aid decision making must recognize what is distinctive and challenging about climate-related decision making while at the same time drawing upon knowledge developed in comparable decision arenas. The sections that follow first discuss how climate-related decisions can be conceptualized and then move on to discuss special challenges associated with climate-related decision making and resources that can help inform and improve decision making among public, private, and non-profit sectors. Institutions such as the U.S. Congress and organizations ranging from large federal bureaucracies to corporations and small businesses are faced with numerous decisions on an ongoing basis, including various climate-related decisions. General research on decision making in organizations provides insight into what drives decision making for organizational and institutional actors. There is also a solid empirical basis for understanding household and individual decision making on environmental issues that can inform climate-related decisions at those levels of analysis. Box 4.1 provides examples of social science research needs to support decision making, including 1 See http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/8A3/83/Chapter_2_A_-_Technical_Annex.pdf.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change BOX 4.1 Social Science Research Needs Research for and on decision support would improve the design and function of public and private decision support systems (NRC, 2009a). Science for decision support provides information that decision makers need and includes both “fundamental research on human processes and institutions that interact with the climate system (e.g., risk-related judgments and decision making, environmentally significant consumption, institutions governing resource management)” (NRC, 2009a), including the following: Climate change vulnerabilities. Improve understanding of the vulnerability of people, places, and economic activities as a function of climate-driven events, and improve analysis of likely future vulnerability due to the intersection of climate change with demographic, economic, and technological change (see also NRC, 1999, 2007b). The potential for limiting climate change. Improve understanding of the human drivers of climate forcing; the potential to alter these drivers with particular kinds of policy interventions; and the costs, benefits, and non-climate consequences of such policy interventions. Policy interventions to limit emissions can benefit from finer-grained knowledge (see also NRC, 2002b, 2005). Adaptation contexts and capacities. Develop indicators of adaptive capacity by type of disruptive event, improve understanding on why adaptive capacity is or is not fully utilized, and assess the ability of specific adaptation options to reduce impacts of climate change while taking advantage of opportunities (Brooks and Adger, 2005). Interactions of limiting and adapting. Improve understanding of climate response options in terms of their interrelationships and their joint effects on the human consequences of climate change (see also Klein et al., 2007). research into human courses of action as well as how to most effectively communicate the information needed by decision makers. The Basis for Decision Making in Organizations and Institutions Many tools that exist to support organizational and institutional decision making rest either implicitly or explicitly on rational choice and assumptions. The rational choice perspective sees actors making decisions in order to actualize their preferences in an efficient and calculated manner—based mostly on an estimate of the economic costs and benefits of actions. Bargaining and negotiation are seen as involving various forms of exchange, which are again driven by preferences for particular outcomes.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change Emerging opportunities. Improve information to support climate-related decisions that can be beneficial and profitable. The science of decision support builds knowledge about how to inform decisions effectively, including the following: Identify the kinds of information decision makers want and the kinds that would add greatest value for their climate-related decisions (see also NRC, 1999, 2005). Develop useful and decision-relevant indicators (e.g., of human pressures on climate, vulnerability, adaptive capacity, actions to limit or adapt to climate change, and decision quality) (see NRC, 2005). Understand how people interpret climate-related information and develop novel ways of framing and presenting information about climate risk and scientific uncertainty for climate-sensitive decisions. Most decision makers want to consider not only the probability and magnitude of risks but also qualitative aspects, tradeoffs among values, and the context of choices (NRC, 1999). Improve processes for informing decisions (e.g., channels and organizational structures for delivering information; fitting information into decision routines; the use of networks in distributing information; determinants of whether useful information is actually used; ways to overcome barriers to information use; improved approaches to integrating analysis with deliberative decision processes) (NRC, 2005, 2008b,c). Improve the decision tools, messages, and other products, and their use, to enable decision-relevant information to be conveyed and understood in ways that enhance decision quality (e.g., models, simulations, mapping and visualization products, and websites) (NRC, 2005). Assumptions about organizational rationality, instrumentalism, and concern with costs and benefits form the underpinning for many approaches to decision support, including those discussed in this chapter. Such approaches are useful, particularly when limits on rationality are acknowledged; when the values at stake and the consequences of decisions are conceptualized broadly; and when considerations that are not easy to quantify, such as the cultural meanings associated with iconic species and places, are taken into account. There are alternative ways of thinking about decision making that can supplement and sometimes even supplant models based on rational choice. Some alternative approaches are rooted in scientific knowledge concerning naturalistic and actual decision making, based on studies of how organizations and institutions decide on courses
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change of action in real world situations (March, 1994). This emphasizes non-instrumental and non-economic drivers of decision making, such as beliefs, norms, and “logics of appropriateness” (March and Olsen, 2004) that are embedded in and reinforced by cultural practices within entities that are faced with making decisions. Countering the classical rationalistic approach to decision making, scholarship on naturalistic decision making emphasizes that under certain conditions action can precede reflection; that decisions may be only loosely linked to the quantity and quality of available information; and that historically developed rules and routines constitute a stock of knowledge upon which actors draw when they are faced with making decisions. Indeed, even the use of formal decision support tools to inform decisions about climate change and other issues is embedded in cultural practices that are characteristic of some organizations, but not others. The social science perspective known as institutionalism (DiMaggio and Powell, 1983, 1991; Drori et al., 2006; Meyer and Rowan, 1977; Scott, 2001; Suddaby and Greenwood, 2005) also offers insights on decision making. Institutional theories tend to down-play the rationalistic and instrumental sources of organizational practices, including decision making. One insight is that organizational decision makers may choose a particular course of action not because they have systematically weighed its costs and benefits, and not because the decision increases efficiency and profits, but rather because of other factors, such as the imposition of new regulations, or pressures created by formal and informal standards developed within groups of similar entities, or even the diffusion of similar decisions and practices within specific organizations and professions. Institutionalists would argue that the desire to adhere to “green” building standards, obtain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, reduce carbon footprints, or build structures that exceed hazard loss reduction codes and standards may be partly instrumentalist in nature, but it may also stem from the desire to achieve status or reputational capital within a particular organizational field, or even from simple bandwagon effects. A key institutionalist insight is that organizations quite often do not decide and act alone but instead are influenced by broader “decision making ecologies” in which they are embedded. Put another way, by virtue of their network ties, individual organizations are susceptible to influence by network partners, and such ties also influence decisions (Cyert and March, 1992). For example, small organizations that are part of a supply chain that is dominated by a large retailer and that are financially dependent on that retailer are likely to comply with the large retailer’s rules and requirements, including those associated with climate change mitigation and adaptation, without having to go through complex cost-benefit calculations or other formal decision support exercises. For such organizations, even if they are not inclined to comply, requirements articulated by a dominant
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change supply-chain partner are sufficient to induce changes in behavior. Recognizing the importance of symbolism, shared norms governing conduct, other elements of organizational and institutional culture, and network-based sources of influence is a requirement for providing support for decisions and actions in the climate change arena. The Basis for Public Decision Making Decisions by members of the general public are critical for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Too often, members of the public are viewed merely in terms of their role as consumers. From this point of view, decision support is equated with providing information so that the public can make informed choices about which automobiles or appliances to purchase, or whether to drive to work or take public transportation. Such decisions are of course important in shaping responses to climate change. Equally important, however, is the power that the public has to influence decisions that are made by governmental, corporate, and non-profit actors. Like organizations public decisions can be seen as based on rational or cultural principles and influenced by factors, such as networks and status aspirations, which stem from an institutionalist perspective on decision making. Decision support activities must recognize the dual role of members of the public as both consumers and citizens who can take an active role in influencing the decisions made by other entities (Nerlich et al., 2010). Public influence can take a variety of forms, including voting, lobbying, and social movement activity that seeks to influence policy agendas. Historically, both better-off and less-privileged segments of the U.S. population have mobilized on a variety of environmental issues and controversies. Concern with environmental issues is sometimes greater among higher-status groups in the United States, but lower-income and minority groups also mobilize to take action on environmental issues, particularly when such issues are framed as reflecting environmental inequities and questions of fairness. The fact that climate change is increasingly being viewed as having disparate and inequitable effects is influencing political positions on climate change issues, including positions taken by publics in the United States and around the world (Roberts and Parks, 2006). Risk and Decision Support In Chapter 3 we recommend an iterative risk management approach to responding to climate change and this has implications for the resources and tools needed to support effective decisions. A risk management approach assumes that decision support tools, whether simple graphs or complex models, provide information about the level
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change of uncertainty and error, the chances of occurrence, and the amount of confidence associated with analysis of climate change, its impacts, and the effectiveness of responses. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, for example, provided estimates of probability (e.g., very likely is equivalent to 90 percent likelihood of occurrence) and of confidence (e.g., high confidence is an 8 out of 10 chance of being correct) for each of their main conclusions (IPCC, 2005). Because these terms can be confusing it is important that decision tools be as clear as possible about how error, uncertainty, probability, or confidence is defined or expressed. Research suggests that, even when risks are communicated clearly, other factors such as emotions are important in shaping decisions with respect to various risks (Finucane, 2008). This is not to say that decision makers behave irrationally in the face of risk-related information. Rather, research stresses that positive and negative emotions of various kinds are bound up with cognitive calculations concerning risk. Emotions that enter into risk calculations include fear and dread, outrage, feelings of distrust or protectiveness, love, and empathy. Views on decisions related to climate change may thus be colored by emotional responses to a wide variety of objects of concern, including nature in general, particular species at risk from climate change, ideologies and what they imply for social and political action, government, free markets, and regulation. This is not meant to imply that emotions somehow diminish decision making capabilities. Rather, the point is that many if not most decisions cannot be separated from the emotions that accompany them, and that many points of view on climate change are not just about climate. Public receptiveness to risk-related information is influenced by a range of factors, including psychological attributes such as fatalism and religiosity; social characteristics such as race, class, and gender; and a host of other influential factors. Providing support for decision making is, in other words, a complex task that must include both attention to the information that is provided and attention to relevant social and cultural characteristics of those who are the intended recipients of the information. Other factors, such as the time and energy required to acquire, process, and understand new information, must also be taken into account in decision-support efforts. Technical reports like this one contain executive summaries for just that reason: members of some audiences to which this report is directed lack the time to read the entire report, but will instead read the executive summary and will potentially make decisions based on that condensed information. DECISION SUPPORT TOOLS: THEIR CHARACTERISTICS AND USES Decision tools are structured methods for evaluating the results of different decisions and provide a way of assessing the impacts, costs, and benefits or different decisions
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change and strategies (including the option of not making a decision and allowing “business as usual”). Table 4.1 demonstrates an array of tools commonly used to aid effective decisions and actions related to climate change. Decision tools are as old as the human race itself, ever since the days when the peoples of the earth prognosticated about the future by studying the motions of the stars and planets, interpreted messages hidden in the entrails of animals, and consulted oracles. In modern times, decision methods based on expert judgments, deliberative consultations, historical records, and actuarial analyses slowly replaced those earlier methods in many regions of the world. Currently, computer-based information systems are extremely significant in helping decision makers use data and models to improve their decision making capabilities. In line with contemporary society’s reliance on information technology and with advances in the art and science of visualization, there are now a wide variety of computer-based tools to help inform effective decisions and actions related to climate change. These include earth system models, impact models, various economic modeling techniques (including cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analyses), integrated assessment models, and a range of other computer-based tools and products for engaging users and the public in deliberative decision processes or for helping them access and evaluate information related to alternative strategies. Many tools now include explicit consideration of uncertainties and are able to incorporate spatial detail through the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS). But many decision makers use a basic set of accessible decision support tools that include graphs, maps, images, GIS, and spreadsheets. One example of the demand for decision tools is that of local water managers. At a 2008 workshop, hosted by the Arizona Water Institute, participants identified a need for tools that provide information on how the accuracy of hydrological variability, patterns of seasonality, and groundwater might change with climate warming, improved snowmelt/runoff models, strategic monitoring of summer precipitation, groundwater recharge, and water quality. Participants also requested tools with better visualization and explanation of data limitations and more personal engagement with scientists providing decision support (Jacobs et al., 2010). Although a wide spectrum of tools currently exists, few have the capacity to work across international, national, regional, and local scales. The fact that so many tools exist can also create confusion on which tools are the most appropriate for particular decisions. Additionally, the same tool used with different assumptions or design specifications may result in different results. Decision makers often turn to federal or state agencies, local universities, and national or international assessment reports to provide information on the merit of such tools to support climate-related decisions.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change TABLE 4.1 Tools Commonly Used to Aid Effective Decisions and Actions Related to Climate Change Tool Main Uses in Decision Making Basic toolbox Graphs, maps, spreadsheets, images, GIS—used in local analysis of climate change and to communicate trends, patterns, impacts and alternatives Earth systems models (e.g., general circulation models, carbon cycle models, climate forecast models) Predict climate (e.g., seasonal forecasts, past climate) Estimate how emissions (and alternative emission paths) will affect global and regional climate Understand how changes in climate or other factors (e.g., land use) might affect global carbon and biogeochemical cycles Explore and communicate key uncertainties Assess the global climate implications of some geoengineering options Impact models (e.g., ecosystem models, crop models, water resource models, disease models, coastal models) Analyze the impacts of changes in climate on the environment and human activity Explore the interactions of climate with other changes (e.g., in water demand, land use, agricultural technology, vulnerability) to understand range of impacts Examine the potential for adaptation to reduce impacts Economic models (e.g., cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit analysis, individual choice modeling/agent-based models, input-output models) Estimate and analyze the costs and benefits of various policies and assumptions to limit emissions, develop cost-effective energy policies Understand the results of individual economic decisions about use of energy, land, and other resources Some decision tools are also highly technical, which requires training and also stakeholder engagement in the development of the tools to ensure the output is useful for decision makers. For example, the International Research Institute (IRI) runs training programs and online tutorials for users to understand climate forecast maps. A number of private sector companies and consultancies offer workshops in how to calculate GHG emissions or involve stakeholders in decisions. Not only do decision makers have difficulty in interpreting and applying climate prediction in practice, there is often a mismatch between needs of decision makers at
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change Tool Main Uses in Decision Making Integrated Assessment Models Provide an integrated assessment of how alternative policies influence an interconnected system that links human and natural system activities, emissions, climate, impacts, technology options, and/or economics Assessments Bring together a broad range of qualitative and quantitative information to provide an overall state of the science (such as IPCC), policies, or climate change in a region Tools to evaluate and incorporate opinions, judgments (e.g., surveys, expert elicitation, and structured deliberation) Understand and integrate the views of experts and citizens about climate change and policies Policy simulations Explore the implications of alternative policies using games and heuristic methods Decision matrices and use of criteria to search databases Structure and weigh alternative options, identify options from database of available strategies (e.g., adaptation options, greenhouse gas reduction strategies) Participatory decision techniques (e.g., participatory GIS, structured stakeholder involvement) Collective decision making Emission calculators (e.g., Life Cycle Analysis, GHG accounting) Calculate emissions embodied in products, estimate emissions from firms, sectors, and regions multiple levels and in different sectors and the available information resources. This also requires stakeholder engagement for the development of such tools to ensure that the output is useful (Nicholls, 1999). “Boundary organizations” that provide assistance in collaborations among scientists, decision makers, and practitioners, can help ensure that tools are structured in ways that meet decision makers’ and end-users’ needs, while at the same time ensuring that scientific results are accurately conveyed. The effectiveness of any decision tool depends on whether it provides information
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change BOX 4.3 Decision Support for Coastal Responses to Climate Change Decision makers in coastal areas face a daunting set of challenges associated with climate change such as sea level rise; habitat destruction; invasive species; damage to natural protective systems such as wetlands, dunes, and barrier islands; land loss; increased vulnerability of critical infrastructure facilities such as ports and transportation systems; and property and population vulnerability. Coastal regions also face a variety of population and development pressures as growing numbers of Americans migrate to those areas in search of the amenities they value. Many tools and strategies are being used to assist decision makers in coastal regions. Three examples of initiatives and the decision support resources offered include the following: The Environmental Protection Agency’s Climate Ready Estuaries Program (CREP) provides a range of tools for communities seeking to adapt to climate change impacts. Estuaries are vulnerable to climate change and variability and are jurisdictionally complex, often encompassing more than one state and numerous cities, towns, and counties. The programs enable stakeholders in estuary regions to analyze their climate change vulnerabilities, develop and implement strategies for adapting to climate change and variation, communicate with various audiences about climate-related risks, and promote information sharing and the dissemination of lessons learned. The program provides grants and technical assistance to support adaptation efforts in estuarine settings, actively seeks to develop networks that can serve as conduits for information on best practices and convenes workshops for grant recipients, publishes newsletters, and provides space on its web site for inter-project communication. CREP maintains an extensive web portal that includes access to a “Climate Ready Estuaries Toolkit” that contains a suite of GIS-based risk and vulnerability assessment tools and databases for monitoring climate change. The site also enables users to access CCSP Synthesis and Assessment Products, materials that can be used in education and outreach programs, and information on how to obtain funds for local programs. CREP also assists decision makers through publications that structure problems and lay out options for climate change adaptation, including maintaining and restoring wetlands; maintaining sediment transport; preserving coastal lands development and infrastructure; maintaining shorelines through both “soft” measures such as marsh creation to slow shore erosion and “hard” measures such as the construction of sea walls and breakwaters; and maintaining water quality and availability. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Coastal Services Center (CSC) assists coastal management organizations in locating decision-relevant information and developing
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change climate change adaptation programs. For example, its “Digital Coast” data resource contains links to a wide variety of datasets containing orthoimagery, coastal elevation and land cover data, bathymetry and topography data, and data on demographic trends affecting coastal regions. The CSC provides training in the use of “Digital Coast,” conducts workshops on vulnerability assessment techniques and applications (“VATA”), and operates a listserv for information sharing. It also maintains a climate change adaptation web site that includes guidelines for adaptation planning, reports on policy and legislation, case studies, and other informational resources. PlaNYC (described in Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change , NRC, 2010a), and also Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate , NRC, 2009a) represents a more locally based coastal decision support program in the New York City region which targets three priority activities for adaptation: formation of an intergovernmental task force for the protection of the city’s critical infrastructure, development of strategies for protecting especially vulnerable neighborhoods, and development and implementation of a citywide strategic planning process for climate adaptation. PlaNYC uses a variety of strategies to aid decision making, providing decision makers with information on a range of climate-related indicators, including climate change scenarios, downscaled regional scenarios, projections regarding future extreme events, and physical and social vulnerability indicators. The New York metropolitan region faces significant hazards related to sea level rise—in particular storm surges from extreme weather events, which will become more severe as sea level rise progresses. In studies carried out for the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, researchers at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), using the GISS Atmosphere-Ocean model, were able to predict sea level rise over time for the New York metropolitan area under different emissions scenarios. As indicated on the web site of the Columbia University Center for Climate System Research, this set of studies found that in a major hurricane “[a]reas potentially under water include the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano Bridge” (for more details, see Rosenzweig and Solecki, 2001). All three programs discussed here seek to address decision makers’ needs in a variety of ways. Such approaches include providing information on decision-relevant topics (e.g., climate impacts, model adaptation plans, model legislation, and policy initiatives); making analytic tools and databases more widely available; establishing and sustaining networks for information sharing; engaging in public outreach and education activities; and employing a variety of other stakeholder engagement strategies.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change BOX 4.4 Resources for Implementing Iterative Risk Management in the Water Resources Sector A variety of data sources, simulation models, and decision support methods exist to help water managers incorporate climate change into their operations and plans. As one example, this case study describes how Southern California’s Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA) has used a water management simulation model, down-scaled climate projections, and decision support software in a participatory stakeholder process to implement an iterative risk management approach to improve its ability to respond to climate change. The IEUA, a wholesale water and wastewater provider in Riverside County, California, is legally required every few years to prepare or update a plan demonstrating how they will ensure their community’s access to water. At present, IEUA serves slightly fewer than one million people relying primarily on local groundwater and imports from Northern California. To serve its growing population, IEUA in 2005 completed a 25-year water plan that called for the agency to increase the agency’s groundwater use by 75 percent and its recycled water use by 600 percent by 2025. But as recently as 2005, IEUA had not considered the potential impacts of climate change on its long-range plan. However, in 2007 the agency conducted—with the assistance of a RAND-led team funded under the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) climate change decision making under uncertainty (DMUU) programa—a vulnerability and response option analysis to determine whether and how the potential for future climate change should cause them to alter their 2005 plan. To conduct this analysis, the RAND team combined a water management model (WMM) with downscaled regional climate projections from an ensemble of atmosphere-ocean generation circulation models (AOGCMs). The water management model, built using the Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) modeling environment (see http://www.weap21.org for more information), simulated the IEUA region’s hydrology, water supply, and water demand. To address the challenge of planning under uncertainty the simulation was designed to evaluate the performance of IEUA plans under a wide range of future scenarios, each of which reflects plausible trends in climate change and other planning assumptions. The model reported two measures of plan performance: the reliability of the IEUA system in meeting all projected demand and the cost of implementing the agency’s base plan and any additional actions needed to improve reliability in some scenarios. Using an iterative risk management framework, the WEAP simulation was explicitly designed to consider adaptive strategies, those designed to monitor changing conditions and respond over time. In particular, the model began with a specified set of near-term actions IEUA might take, such as investments to increase the use of wastewater recycling or improved water use efficiency. Beginning in 2015 and every 5 years thereafter in the simulation, the model evaluates whether supply has been sufficient to meet demand over the previous 5 years. If the gap between demand and supply exceeds
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change some specified threshold, the simulation implements additional actions as specified by the strategy under consideration. Climate change is not the only important uncertainty facing IEUA, so the study also considered a wide range of cases representing different assumptions about the agency’s ability to implement its aggressive new groundwater and recycling programs, as well as different assumptions about events outside the agency’s service area such as those affecting supplies of imported water. The RAND team then used a decision analytic approach called robust decision making to implement the iterative risk management approach using this simulation model and ensemble of future climate projections. With decision support software designed for this purpose, the study used the simulation model to follow its current plan into several hundred different futures, each characterized by one of the future weather sequences and one set of assumptions about the agency’s future level of success in implementing its plans, and future supplies of imported water. Each of these cases explores how the candidate strategy will perform given some particular set of “what if” assumptions about the future state of the world. The study then used statistical analysis to identify the key factors that would cause the agency’s plans to fail to meet its performance goals. This analysis suggested IEUA’s 2005 plan would fail in the future if all the following factors occurred simultaneously: a significant decrease in precipitation, any decrease in the share of precipitation that infiltrated into the groundwater basin, and significant impact of climate change on the availability of future imports. Other failure modes were identified which included other important factors such as the need for IEUA’s recycling program to meet its ambitious goals. The agency then used this information to create visualizations describing the strengths and weaknesses of alternative plans and the tradeoffs among them. The project collaborators and IEUA used these results to help identify and evaluate potential ways to augment its plan to improve its ability to address these challenging conditions. The simulation model, climate projections, and decision analysis were developed through a series of workshops with IEUA managers and technical staff, local elected officials, and representatives of local business, environmental, and other groups in the IEUA region (Groves and Lempert, 2007; Groves et al., 2008). These workshops were interspersed with in-depth technical reviews with IEUA technical staff and the RAND team developing the model and climate data. Based on this analysis and interactions, IEUA decided to augment its 2005 Urban Water Management Plan by increasing its current water use efficiency programs in the near-term and by monitoring and updating if necessary its plans in the future. a See http://www.rand.org/ise/projects/improvingdecisions/.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change BOX 4.5 The Value of Information to Help Guide Resource Allocation Decisions in the United States The results of model runs that are used to estimate the dollar value of information that could determine the probability of a low-cost, unlimited emissions scenario. SOURCE: Adapted from Manne and Richels (1992). The figure above represents the results of model runs that estimate the dollar value of information that could precisely and accurately determine the probability that the costs of expected climate change if emissions were not limited would be low, as a function of what the determined probability is. That value—the value of information that could define the actual probability—is useful for resource allocation decisions for research. The model results indicate that if the research determined that low damage was a certainty, the value of perfect information would be zero. As uncertainty about the future increases, so does the expected value of perfect information. The model showed a maximum value of information when the probability of low damages from unlimited emissions is 0.6. In terms of macroeconomic consumption, the discounted present value is $81 billion (in terms of constant 1990 dollars). The curve, however, is not symmetrical, since even if the probability of low damages with unlimited emissions were zero, there is still uncertainty about whether damage would be moderate or high.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change the context of the decision it is intended to inform. In the realm of climate change decision making, there are not only multiple uncertainties, but also multiple decisions to be made by diverse entities, as well as multiple outcomes of each decision. Decision theoretic techniques can also be applied to estimate how much outcomes could be improved if additional information could reduce uncertainty about the future, even if the resulting information is imperfect. It is also important to note that information that may have little or no value for decisions about limiting climate change may nevertheless have high value for adaptation. Additionally, information that does not necessarily reduce uncertainty, in the sense of narrowing the width of the probability distribution of outcomes, such as information generated from deterministic models and scenarios, can still have a high value for improving decisions. ASSESSMENTS AS TOOLS FOR CLIMATE-RELATED DECISION MAKING Integrated assessment models are just one method used in the process of developing broader assessments of environmental issues which bring together a wide range of scientific information and analysis to provide state of the art summaries for decision makers. Assessments are collective, deliberative processes by which experts review, analyze, and synthesize scientific knowledge in response to users’ information needs relevant to key questions, uncertainties, or decisions (NRC, 2007a) and as such constitute an important interface between science and policy. The U.S. Global Change Research Act (1990) mandates regular (4 year) assessments of global change impacts on key sectors. However, only two major U.S. assessments of climate change have been conducted—a national assessment in 2001 and the recent CCSP synthesis and assessment exercise (USGCRP, 2009). Hundreds of U.S. scientists have participated in the high profile assessments of the IPCC, and climate change has also been an important component of international assessments of ecosystems (MEA, 2005), Arctic climate impacts (ACIA, 2004), and stratospheric ozone (WMO, 2007). Reports by the Congressional Research Service also serve as focused assessments for policy makers. Assessments can establish the basic significance of an issue and communicate it to decision makers. They can also respond to particular scientific questions of high policy relevance and can evaluate whether policies are delivering expected benefits. The NRC (2007a) has identified 11 elements of effective assessments (Box 4.6), where effectiveness is defined in terms of salience (ability to communicate relevant information to users), credibility (high-quality technical basis), and legitimacy (fairness and impartiality). The NRC also observed that the most common weaknesses in assessments are a mismatch between the scope of the assessment, inadequate funding, and the inability to match assessment goals with the needs of decision makers.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change BOX 4.6 Elements of Effective Assessments A clear strategic framing of the assessment process, including a well articulated mandate, realistic goals consistent with the needs of decision makers, and a detailed implementation plan. Adequate funding that is both commensurate with the mandate and effectively managed to ensure an efficient assessment process. A balance between the benefits of a particular assessment and the opportunity costs (e.g., commitments of time and effort) to the scientific community. A timeline consistent with assessment objectives, the state of the underlying knowledge base, the resources available, and the needs of decision makers. Engagement and commitment of interested and affected parties, with a transparent science-policy interface and effective communication throughout the process. Strong leadership and an organizational structure in which responsibilities are well articulated. Careful design of interdisciplinary efforts to ensure integration, with specific reference to the assessment’s purpose, users needs, and available resources. Realistic and credible treatment of uncertainties. An independent review process monitored by a balanced panel of review editors. Maximizing the benefits of the assessment by developing tools to support use of assessment results in decision making at differing geographic scales and decision levels. Use of a nested assessment approach, when appropriate, using analysis of large-scale trends and identification of priority issues as the context for focused, smaller-scale impacts and response assessments at the regional or local level. SOURCE: NRC (2007a). The Informing panel endorses these elements and key recommendations of the report, and includes the following: Those requesting assessments should develop a guidance document that provides a clear strategic framework, including a well-articulated mandate and a detailed implementation plan realistically linked to budgetary requirements. The guidance document should specify decisions the assessment intends to inform; the assessment’s scope, timing, priorities, target audiences, leadership, communication strategy, funding, and the degree of interdisciplinary integration; and measures of success.
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change The burden of assessments on the scientific community should be proportional to the aggregate public benefits provided by the assessment. Alternative modes of participation or changes to the assessment process—such as limiting material in regularly scheduled assessments or running “nested” or phased multiscale assessments—should be considered. As appropriate, U.S. assessments should acknowledge the work of the international community and avoid redundant efforts. The intended audiences for an assessment should be identified in advance, along with their information needs and the level of specificity required. In most cases, the target audience should be engaged in formulating questions to be addressed throughout the process in order to ensure that assessments are responsive to changing information needs. Both human and financial resources should be adequate for communicating assessment products to relevant audiences. Clear guidelines and boundaries should ensure both salience to those requesting the assessment and legitimacy, especially with respect to the perceived influence of those requesting the assessment might have over the scientific conclusions drawn. A strategy for identifying and engaging appropriate stakeholders should be included in the assessment design to balance the advantages of broad participation with efficiency and credibility of the process. Capacity building efforts for participants from various disciplines should be undertaken in order to develop a common language and a mutual understanding of the science and the decision making context. This capacity building may be required to ensure the most salient questions are being addressed and to meaningfully engage diverse stakeholders in assessment activities. Building on the NRC study (2007a), our panel identified other considerations that should be taken into account when assessments are used as decision support tools, such as the following: Assessments, such as the IPCC and CCSP, have become overwhelming in their scope, size, and demands on the scientific community. It is often hard for decision makers to identify the key messages and information that are relevant to the choices they face. More focused assessments to support specific questions and decisions may be more effective, especially if they are concise and clearly responsive to decisions and stakeholders. Assessments tend to be focused on information of relevance to governments at national and regional scales, and they often fail to address concerns and decisions of local governments, the private sector, and civil society. As discussed in Chapter 2 of this report, given the importance of non-federal actors as both
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change users and sources of information, greater attention should be paid to their decision needs and to their inclusion in the production of assessments. There is value to viewing assessment as an ongoing process of engagement with stakeholders which provides regular updates on climate, impacts and responses and responds to the information needs of both federal and nonfederal decision makers. However this requires a commitment to supporting the process, to listening and responding to stakeholders, and to the information systems that are needed for the assessments. As the United States and international communities make decisions that have significant economic and development implications for countries, business interests, and other communities, the assessments (such as IPCC) on which these decisions are based become matters of “high politics” with much greater scrutiny of their legitimacy and of review processes. This demands even greater care in the preparation, transparency, and communication of assessment products, especially in the communication of uncertainty, social, economic, and ecological impacts, and results of relevance to particular interest groups and regions. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS A variety of tools and resources exist for informing decision making about climate change. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages, but many are overlooked or misunderstood in the portfolio of decision tools used by decision makers. It is frequently argued that a major purpose of analysis is insights, rather than numbers. Decision tools work best when they provide decision makers with an analytical framework for thinking about a particular problem. With a problem as multifaceted as the climate problem, issues can quickly become intractable. Without systematic procedures for “working the problem,” decision makers often become confused and reluctant to act even in cases where action is needed. Among all the tools that are available, decision makers need to select tools that are capable of providing the information they need. This points to the necessity of providing information within time frames and geographic scales that are relevant to decision makers as well as information on the uncertainties associated with those time scales. Communicating tool results is also important and this requires partnering with stakeholders when making decisions. The Science Panel report (NRC, 2010b) has identified key research needs in developing decision support tools (see also Box 4.1). There is clearly a need to develop tools
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change for responding to climate change, and this need will continue to evolve as tools are designed to be decision-specific. Our review suggests several important challenges in the use and development of decision tools and methods to inform decisions about climate change. These include a mismatch between the global, aggregate, or national scale of climate and energy models and the needs for decision making at more local or sectoral scales; controversies over how to handle economics, uncertainties, and subjective judgments; user misunderstandings about the assumptions and limits of methods; major information gaps; and the need to ensure that assessment activities are effective, are focused, and respond to user needs. Observational systems and databases are critical to developing tools and the evaluation of methods for modeling, mapping, networking, and decision making. The Federal government has an important role in supporting such information systems as we discuss in subsequent chapters. We find that “value of information” techniques may be helpful in order to inform decision makers on the relative value of investments to improve understanding across key unknowns in the climate system. Where such expertise does not reside in particular agencies, experts should be engaged from outside these agencies (e.g., academia) to provide the requisite skills. The discussion of assessments as a decision support tool is based on the NRC (2007a) report on lessons learned from assessments and we endorse the recommendations of this report and its suggestions for effective assessments. We judge that future assessments may need to be more focused on specific questions and decisions developed in consultation and collaboration with decision makers. The panel, in preparing this chapter, also found it difficult to identify good reviews and clear unbiased discussions of the full range of decision support tools, their appropriate uses and limitation. We therefore conclude that there could be a stronger role for the Federal government to provide better guidance on decision support tools for climate decisions, perhaps through a climate tools database, network, and best practice examples. This could be considered part of a broader attempt to provide climate and carbon management services. At the same time, the panel also recognizes that formal decision-analytic procedures may not constitute the tools of choice for many decision makers. Support for decisions comes from a wide range of sources that include mandates, standards, and regulations; informal norms that govern procedures and practices adopted by decision-making entities; priorities and practices that are diffused within interpersonal and interorganizational networks; and institutional pressures that produce alignments among entities pursuing similar goals. While solutions to climate-related problems should never rely on these kinds of sources alone, it is important to note their significance
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Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change as drivers of decision making, both in the climate arena and more generally. Formal decision tools may be used to illuminate choices, but they may also be used to validate strategies that have already been decided upon on other grounds. Resources that support decision making are myriad and varied, ranging from sophisticated computer simulations, to scenarios of climate futures presented in the form of GIS visualizations, to films and documentaries, and to less elaborate materials that merely inform decision makers about what measures their counterparts have decided to undertake. Decision makers themselves determine which decision support resources are most relevant in the context of the dilemmas they face, and for that reason all efforts to provide such resources must begin with an understanding of decision maker needs. Recommendation 5: The federal government should support research and the development and diffusion of decision support tools and include clear guidance as to their uses and limitations for different types and scales of decision making about climate change. The federal government should support training for researchers on how to communicate climate change information and uncertainties to a variety of audiences using a broad range of methods and media.