The communication of physical science uncertainty in European National Adaptation Strategies

Many European countries have developed National Adaptation Strategies (NAS) to guide adaptation to the expected impacts of climate change. There is a need for more structured communication of the uncertainties related to future climate and its impacts so that adaptation actions can be planned and implemented effectively and efficiently. We develop a novel uncertainty assessment framework for comparing approaches to the inclusion and communication of physical science uncertainty, and use it to analyse ten European NAS. The framework is based on but modifies and integrates the notion of the “cascade of uncertainties” and the NUSAP (Numeral Unit Spread Assessment Pedigree) methodology to include the overarching assessment categories of Numerical Value, Spread, Depth and Substantiation. Our assessment indicates that there are marked differences between the NAS in terms of inclusion and communication of physical science uncertainty. We find that there is a bias towards the communication of quantitative uncertainties as opposed to qualitative uncertainties. Through the examination of the English and German NAS, we find that similar stages of development in adaptation policy planning can nevertheless result in differences in handling physical science uncertainty. We propose that the degree of transparency and openness on physical science uncertainty is linked to the wider socio-political context within which the NAS are framed. Our methodology can help raise awareness among NAS users about the explicit and embedded information on physical science uncertainty within the existing NAS and would help to design more structured uncertainty communication in new or revised NAS.

Lorenz S; Dessai S; Paavola J; Forster PM (2015), Climatic Change, 132, pp.143-155.