WG II Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability - Technical Summary

Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptationand Vulnerability

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8. Information Needs

Although progress has been made, considerable gaps in knowledge remain regarding exposure, sensitivity, adaptability, and vulnerability of physical, ecological, and social systems to climate change. Advances in these areas are priorities for advancing understanding of potential consequences of climate change for human society and the natural world, as well as to support analyses of possible responses.

Exposure. Advances in methods for projecting exposures to climate stimuli and other nonclimate stresses at finer spatial scales are needed to improve understanding of potential consequences of climate change, including regional differences, and stimuli to which systems may need to adapt. Work in this area should draw on results from research on system sensitivity, adaptability, and vulnerability to identify the types of climate stimuli and nonclimate stresses that affect systems most. This research is particularly needed in developing countries, many of which lack historical data, adequate monitoring systems, and research and development capabilities. Developing local capacity in environmental assessment and management will increase investment effectiveness. Methods of investigating possible changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events, climate variability, and large-scale, abrupt changes in the Earth system such as slowing or shutdown of thermohaline circulation of oceans are priorities. Work also is needed to advance understanding of how social and economic factors influence the exposures of different populations.

Sensitivity. Sensitivity to climate stimuli is still poorly quantified for many natural and human systems. Responses of systems to climate change are expected to include strong nonlinearities, discontinuous or abrupt responses, time-varying responses, and complex interactions with other systems. However, quantification of the curvature, thresholds, and interactions of system responses is poorly developed for many systems. Work is needed to develop and improve process-based, dynamic models of natural, social, and economic systems; to estimate model parameters of system responses to climate variables; and to validate model simulation results. This work should include use of observational evidence, paleo-observations where applicable, and long-term monitoring of systems and forces acting on them. Continued efforts to detect impacts of observed climate change is a priority for further investigation that can provide empirical information for understanding of system sensitivity to climate change

Adaptability. Progress has been made in the investigation of adaptive measures and adaptive capacity. However, work is needed to better understand the applicability of adaptation experiences with climate variability to climate change, to use this information to develop empirically based estimates of the effectiveness and costs of adaptation, and to develop predictive models of adaptive behavior that take into account decision making under uncertainty. Work also is needed to better understand the determinants of adaptive capacity and to use this information to advance understanding of differences in adaptive capacity across regions, nations, and socioeconomic groups, as well as how capacity may change through time. Advances in these areas are expected to be useful for identifying successful strategies for enhancing adaptation capacity in ways that can be complementary to climate change mitigation, sustainable development, and equity goals.

Vulnerability. Assessments of vulnerability to climate change are largely qualitative and address the sources and character of vulnerability. Further work is needed to integrate information about exposures, sensitivity, and adaptability to provide more detailed and quantitative information about the potential impacts of climate change and the relative degree of vulnerability of different regions, nations, and socioeconomic groups. Advances will require development and refinement of multiple measures or indices of vulnerability such as the number or percentage of persons, species, systems or land area negatively or positively affected; changes in productivity of systems; the monetary value of economic welfare change in absolute and relative terms; and measures of distributional inequities.

Uncertainty. Large gaps remain in refining and applying methods for treating uncertainties, particularly with respect to providing scientific information for decisionmaking. Improvements are required in ways of expressing the likelihood, confidence, and range of uncertainty for estimates of outcomes, as well as how such estimates fit into broader ranges of uncertainty. Methods for providing "traceable accounts" of how any aggregated estimate is made from disaggregated information must be refined. More effort is needed to translate judgments into probability distributions in integrated assessment models.

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