IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

13.8 Key uncertainties and investigation priorities

The projections mentioned in this chapter rely on the quality of the available mathematical models. As it can be seen in its different sections, there are contradictory statements. Such contradictions, also observed in other sectoral and regional chapters, make evident some of the weaknesses of models, especially when the necessary observational background is missing. In addition to the models’ shortcomings, the use of socio-economic scenarios which are not sufficiently representative of the socio-economic conditions in the region, plus the problems still being faced with downscaling techniques, puts more emphasis on the lack of information as a critical uncertainty. Additionally, the communication of risk to stakeholders and decision-makers under uncertainty has been shown to be a significant weakness that needs to be addressed in the short term.

In order to promote economic efficiency and policy efficacy for future adaptation, important multidisciplinary research efforts are required in order to reduce the information gaps. In preparing for the challenges that climate change is posing to the region in the future, the research priorities should be to resolve the constraints already identified in terms of facing current climate variability and trends, such as:

  • lack of awareness,
  • lack of well-distributed and reliable observation systems,
  • lack of adequate monitoring systems,
  • poor technical capabilities,
  • lack of investment and credits for the development of infrastructure in rural areas,
  • scarce integrated assessments, mainly between sectors,
  • limited studies on the economic impacts of current and future climate variability and change,
  • restricted studies on the impacts of climate change on societies,
  • lack of clear prioritisation in the treatment of topics for the region as a whole.
  • In addition, other priorities considering climate change are:
  • to reduce uncertainties in future projections,
  • to assess the impacts of different policy options on reducing vulnerability and/or increasing adaptive capacity.

It is also worth stating that we must change the attitude from planning to effective operation of observation and alerting systems. Currently, the typical response to a severe climatic event consists of intervening after the fact, usually with insufficient funds to restore the conditions prior to the event. A necessary change would be to migrate from a culture of response to a culture of prevention.

In addition, the possibility of abrupt climate change due to a perturbation of the thermohaline circulation opens up a new theme for concern in the Latin American region, where there have been no studies about its possible effects. Another related problem is the occurrence of possible climatic ‘surprises’ (even in a gradually changing climate) when certain thresholds are surpassed and a negative feedback mechanism is triggered, affecting different sectors and resources. Tropical forests and tropical glaciers are likely candidates for surprises.