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Advancing Knowledge Systems to Inform Climate Adaptation Decisions

Final Report Summary - ICAD (Advancing Knowledge Systems to Inform Climate Adaptation Decisions)

Adaptation to climate variability and change represents an important challenge for the sustainable development of society. Currently, we lack understanding of how to most effectively harness science and technology for long-term adaptation to the threat posed by climate change. Informing decision-making will require new kinds of information and new ways of thinking and learning to function effectively in a changing climate.

The ICAD project aims to understand the demand for climate information across society as well as its supply informing long-term planning. The project is interdisciplinary in its approach using concepts and methods from sustainability science, science and technology studies and human geography. Its research focuses on the United Kingdom given the sophistication of existing climate information (such as probabilistic climate projections) and the progressive climate policy landscape (that requires public authorities to regularly report on adaptation activities). The first part of this research seeks to understand the use of climate information by government, private and third sector organisations. The second part focuses on the climate change information itself. The researchers ask scientists and other experts who produce climate information to consider how and what influences that process and how different users interpret that information. The aim is to gain an understanding of how scientific knowledge is converted into something usable by non-climate experts and non-scientists. Clarifying this complex relationship will help address the impact that changes to climate information can have on decision making processes.

Over 140 interviews have been conducted with key stakeholders engaged in adaptation science and decision-making in the UK. A survey of UK users of climate information, including Local Authorities, has also been conducted as well as the analysis of almost 100 adaptation reports from UK organisations. Overall, we find that access to and knowledge of climate change projections has improved since the launch of the UK Climate Change Projections 2009 (UKCP09), but issues of salience remain. In the context of British local government, climate information is no longer a key barrier to adaptation (compared to 2003); instead institutional constraints and financial austerity are the main barriers to adaptation. We found that the demand for climate information is mostly created by policy and regulations. Given the changing political landscape throughout the project lifetime – financial austerity and waning of political leadership on climate change in the UK – we found little demand for climate change projections in English Local Authorities. The second part of the research exposed the tensions involved in coproducing climate change projections that are meant to be both usable and world-leading. If scientists respond too strongly to user needs there is the risk of antagonizing peers and creating disagreements over whether climate science is being farther than it’s ready to go. If scientists don’t respond strongly enough to user needs there is the risk that users will not adapt or may make poor decisions instead. These frictions and power imbalances need to be carefully navigated if the deliberate co-production of climate change projections is to usefully inform adaptation decision-making.