Understanding climate
for the benefit of society

What happens before the storm?

Producing scientific knowledge on climate change and how we must adapt does not automatically translate research into action. On both local and global scales people are influenced by additional factors in this decision-making process researchers explain.


Mie Thomsen from the Nordic Centre of Excellence on Resilience and Societal Security presented research on two coastal communities in Northern Denmark, Løgstør and Thyborøn, and how they prepare before the autumn and winter storms, at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaption. She highlighted the strengths and limitations to community resilience in these two towns and showed that local perceptions and opinions was an important influence for their climate adaption strategies.

The case study focuses on storms and water level rise, and in extreme situations the water level can increase by 2 metres. In one community security was considered very important, but despite knowing the risks of flooding people living in this town were against building a high enough wall by the coast because they did not want to, among other things, loose their connection with the sea.

Barriers of adaption

During the keynote presentation “ Adaptation under Uncertainty – Resilience” professor Suraje Dessai from the University of Leeds highlighted the importance of recognising political, institutional and societal factors in addition to the scientific when estimating uncertainty and adaption to climate changes. Because by recognising these factors the understanding of how and why accessible knowledge on climate changes and adaption strategies does not easily convert into action becomes evident.

- We must understand adaption as a process, Dessai said during his presentation. More collaboration between stakeholders and more focus on developing guidelines is necessary, while at the same time acknowledging that uncertainty is essential. He also highlighted that uncertainty exists across all factors - politically, financially and socially as well as scientifically. These factors can in some instances be more important than the scientific evidence, like the case study from Denmark shows.

The uncertainty monster

During Professor Jeroen van der Sluijs presentation about the need for new ways of interfacing science and governance he explained the image of the “uncertainty monster”. The monster consists of two elements that do not correlate such knowledge versus ignorance, objectivity versus subjectivity, facts versus values, prediction versus speculation, and science versus policy. This monster gives rise to the discomfort associated with the situations we cannot control or things unknown, such as future effects of climate change.

The uncertainty monster is a big challenge for all stakeholders to overcome, especially because future climate and socio-economic change is deeply uncertain. However, the uncertainty must not result in lack of action from stakeholders. Both Dessai and Sluijs say that regardless of this the uncertainty across all scales must be taken into account when it comes to adaption and decision-making. 

Several researchers at the conference has also higlighted this issue, and suggested that we rather speak of probability or risk managment as a way of better framing and dealing with the uncertainty of climate change research and adaption.