Communicating climate information: travelling through the decision‐making process

Femke Stoverinck, Ghislain Dubois, Bas Amelung (2014)

Femke Stoverinck – Chair group Environmental Systems Analysis, Wageningen University,

Wageningen, The Netherlands. Correspondence to: femke.stoverinck@gmail.com, +31 6 37454340.

Ghislain Dubois ‐ University of Versailles Saint‐Quentin‐en‐Yvelines / TEC Conseil, 38 rue Sénac de Meilhan, 13001 Marseille, France, Ghislain.Dubois@yahoo.fr

Bas Amelung – Chair group Environmental Systems Analysis, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands, bas.amelung@wur.nl



Climate change forces society to adapt. Adaptation strategies are preferably based on the best
available climate information. Climate projections, however, often inform adaptation strategies after being interpreted once or several times. This process affects the original message put forward by climate scientists when presenting the basic climate projections, in particular regarding uncertainties.

The nature of this effect and its implications for decision‐making are as yet poorly understood. This paper explores the nature and consequences of a) the communication tools used by scientists and experts, and b) changes in the communicated information as it travels through the decision‐making process. It does so by analysing the interpretative steps taken in a sample of 25 documents, pertaining to the field of public policies for climate change impact assessment and adaptation strategies. Five phases in the provisioning of climate information are distinguished: pre‐existing knowledge (i.e. climate models and data), climate‐change projection, impact assessment, adaptation strategy, and adaptation plan. Between the phases, climate information is summarized and synthesised in order to be passed on. The results show that in the sample information on uncertainty is under‐represented: e.g. studies focus on only one scenario, and/or disregard probability distributions. In addition, visualization tools are often used ineffectively, leading to confusion and unintended interpretations. Several recommendations are presented. A better training of climatologists to communication issues, but also a training to climatology for decision makers are required, as well as more cautious and robust adaptation strategies, accounting for the uncertainty inherent to climate projections.

Keywords: climate change, communication, uncertainty, visualization

2_pollution_atmospherique.pdf (PDF, 350.41 ko)