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

2.5 Key conclusions and future directions

Climate change impact, adaptation and vulnerability (CCIAV) assessment has now moved far beyond its early status as a speculative, academic endeavour. As reported elsewhere in this volume, climate change is already under way, impacts are being felt, and some adaptation is occurring. This is propelling CCIAV assessment from being an exclusively research-oriented activity towards analytical frameworks that are designed for practical decision-making. These comprise a limited set of approaches (described in Section 2.2), within which a large range of methods can be applied.

The aims of research and decision analysis differ somewhat in their treatment of uncertainty. Research aims to understand and reduce uncertainty, whereas decision analysis seeks to manage uncertainty in order to prioritise and implement actions. Therefore, while improved scientific understanding may have led to a narrowing of the range of uncertainty in some cases (e.g., increased consensus among GCM projections of regional climate change) and a widening in others (e.g., an expanded range of estimates of adaptive capacity and vulnerability obtained after accounting for alternative pathways of socio-economic and technological development), these results are largely a manifestation of advances in methods for treating uncertainty.

Decision makers are increasingly calling upon the research community to provide:

  • good-quality information on what impacts are occurring now, their location and the groups or systems most affected,
  • reliable estimates of the impacts to be expected under projected climate change,
  • early warning of potentially alarming or irreversible impacts,
  • estimation of different risks and opportunities associated with a changing climate,
  • effective approaches for identifying and evaluating both existing and prospective adaptation measures and strategies,
  • credible methods of costing different outcomes and response measures,
  • an adequate basis to compare and prioritise alternative response measures, including both adaptation and mitigation.

To meet these demands, future research efforts need to address a set of methodological, technical and information gaps that call for certain actions.

  • Continued development of risk-management techniques. Methods and tools should be designed both to address specific climate change problems and to introduce them into mainstream policy and planning decision-making.
  • New methods and tools appropriate for regional and local application. An increasing focus on adaptation to climate change at local scales requires new methods, scenarios, and models to address emerging issues. New approaches are also reconciling scale issues in scenario development; for example by improving methods of interpreting and quantifying regional storylines, and through the nesting of scenarios at different scales.
  • Cross-sectoral assessments. Limited by data and technical complexity, most CCIAV assessments have so far focused on single sectors. However, impacts of climate change on one sector will have implications, directly and/or indirectly, for others – some adverse and some beneficial. To be more policy-relevant, future analyses need to account for the interactions between different sectors, particularly at national level but also through global trade and financial flows.
  • Collection of empirical knowledge from past experience. Experience gained in dealing with climate-related natural disasters, documented using both modern methods and traditional knowledge, can assist in understanding the coping strategies and adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities, and in defining critical thresholds of impact to be avoided.
  • Enhanced observation networks and improved access to existing data. CCIAV studies have increasing requirements for data describing present-day environmental and socio-economic conditions. Some regions, especially in developing countries, have limited access to existing data, and urgent attention is required to arrest the decline of observation networks. Integrated monitoring systems are needed for observing human-environment interactions.
  • Consistent approaches in relation to scenarios in other assessments. Integration of climate-related scenarios with those widely accepted and used by other international bodies is desirable (i.e., mainstreaming). The exchange of ideas and information between the research and policy communities will greatly improve scenario quality, usage, and acceptance.
  • Improved scenarios for poorly specified indicators. CCIAV outcomes are highly sensitive to assumptions about factors such as future technology and adaptive capacity that at present are poorly understood. For instance, the theories and processes of technological innovation and its relationship with other indicators such as education, wealth, and governance require closer attention, as do studies of the processes and costs of adaptation.
  • Integrated scenarios. There are shortcomings in how interactions between key drivers of change are represented in scenarios. Moreover, socio-economic and technological scenarios need to account for the costs and other ancillary effects of both mitigation and adaptation actions, which at present are rarely considered.
  • Provision of improved climate predictions for near-term planning horizons. Many of the most severe impacts of climate change are manifest through extreme weather and climate events. Resource planners increasingly need reliable information, years to decades ahead, on the risks of adverse weather events at the scales of river catchments and communities.
  • Effective communication of the risks and uncertainties of climate change. To gain trust and improve decisions, awareness-building and dialogue is necessary between those stakeholders with knowledge to share (including researchers) and with the wider public.