Nick Mabey presents on implementing climate change risk management systems

Nick Mabey presents on implementing climate change risk management systems

Nick Mabey, E3G CEO, gave a presentation on implementing climate change risk management systems at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen on 11th June 2014.

The presentation outlined the recommendations of the E3G 2011 report “Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security” and analysed the gaps in current international and national decision making systems. It also gave cutting-edge examples of how countries and sectors have developed new institutions, analysis and decision support systems to help implement risk management approaches to climate change over the past few years.

The key messages in the presentation were:

  • Managing climate risk effectively requires incorporation of the full range of uncertainties into decision making at all levels.
  • Neither international nor national climate change decision making currently manages risk well. It does not incorporate best practice from areas such as security, health or infrastructure planning.
  • Many under-managed risks come from interdependencies (e.g. food trade, infrastructure systems) and impacts on global cooperation.
  • The international climate regime must reform, but needs to be built on strong national risk management frameworks and public debates.
  • National risk management must be robust under scenarios of climate sensitivity and policy failure. This requires fundamental changes to analysis and decision support systems. This implies a new “social contact” for climate – it is a political as well as a technical task.

Based on E3G’s engagement with decision makers in the public and private sector there remain serious misperceptions on how to address the endemic uncertainties surrounding climate change impacts and responses in practical policy making:

  • “Uncertainty” is often misinterpreted as a lack of knowledge. IPCC certainty metrics are not well understood by decision makers compared methods used in other sectors e.g. intelligence analysis.
  • Risk perceptions change when decision makers see how estimates of sensitivity and damage have increased over time. However, due to turnover decision makers have no automatic “memory” of previous damage estimates and these rising trends need to be presented explicitly.
  • Risk perceptions are strongly influenced by implicit “mental models” of climate fragility and dynamics. There is a general bias to assume the climate system is intrinsically robust and resilient to change. Presenting examples of rapid climate change from the geological record is an effective way to provide an evidence base for perceptions of climate system stability.
  • There is a marked shift in decision framing from “economic cost-benefit” to “security/precautionary” when the impact and likelihood of global climate system tipping points are understood by decision makers

The systematic misperceptions and biases in decision makers’ views on climate change can be addressed through reforms to decision support systems in the public and private sector. Key reforms include:

  • There is a need to have stronger assessment capacity which can bridge the gap between science and policy makers and develop information which effectively supports risk-based decision making.
  • The assessment process needs to be science-based but will uses principles such as “balance of probabilities”, “threat minimisation” and “precaution” – not “scientific proof”.
  • Data collection, analysis and modelling needs to be designed more around supporting decision maker needs, including illuminating difficult questions on learning, resilient pathways, option values and scenarios.
  • Incorporating assessment processes into decision making systems requires new and /or reformed institutions and careful separation of policy making, assessment and indicators/warning/evaluation. The UK Climate Change Committee and US Government Federal Climate Resilience and Risk Assessment processes are is a good examples of institutional innovation. There is a case for assessing the potential for an EU and UN Climate Risk Agency to better support decision making.
  • Institutional reforms are needed to engage impacted sectors (e.g. farmers, fishers, cities, food companies), ensure equal and open access to climate risk information, clarify who bears climate liabilities and risks at the national level, and give climate impacted groups more representation and agency in national mitigation debates. These reforms go beyond technical issues will effectively define the national social contact on climate change.”

The presentation and the Degrees of Risk report are attached.


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