World Resource Institute

Managing Uncertainty

Although there is significant consensus on the role human activities play in climate change, there is still uncertainty about the rate and magnitude of its impacts across the globe. Climate projections are not often on a scale that is relevant or useful to decision makers. In some areas, it is virtually impossible to predict future trends.

The implications of uncertainty for decision making are significant. Decisions will often need to be made before adequate information is available. Though such decisions should be designed in a manner that they can be applied under multiple future scenarios, but decision makers may not be familiar with tools and steps that assist in planning for uncertainty, and they may lack the resources to use such tools. In order to explore how developing country decision makers can incorporate uncertainty about climate risks into existing planning and policymaking processes, the WRR has commissioned a set of papers by a number of experts with experience in creating decision scenarios in uncertain circumstances.

These short papers contain on-the-ground insights and examples that should be useful to practitioners and policymakers as they wrestle with the challenges of uncertainty. You can find the summaries of these responses below.


Full text of questions posed to authors

Title Description
How do You Adapt in an Uncertain World? Lessons from the Thames Estuary 2100 Project by Tim Reeder and Nicola RangerThe authors describe the Thames Estuary 2100 project, which has built uncertainty into a process around planning for sea level rise in London.
How Can Developing Country Decision Makers Incorporate Uncertainty about Climate Risks into Existing Planning and Policymaking Processes? by Suraje Dessai and Robert Wilby The authors present a framework for robust adaptation, using a case study from Yemen to illustrate the process.
How can decision-makers in developing countries incorporate uncertainty about future climate risks into existing planning and policy-making processes? by Nicola Ranger and Su-Lin Garbett-Shiels This paper sets out simple, practical principles that aim to reduce the impact of uncertainty on decision-making, with a focus on promoting good development and long-term adaptive capacity while avoiding inflexible decisions that could lock-in future climate risk in the long term.
Decision-scaling for Robust Planning and Policy under Climate Uncertainty by Casey Brown This paper explains the practice of decision-scaling, which identifys what kind of climate changes would cause problems in a plan and then turns to climate models to estimate whether those climate changes are likely. A case study from the Niger Basin shows its usefulness in action.
Managing Climate Risks in Developing Countries with Robust Decision Making by Robert Lempert and Nidhi KalraThe authors present the concept of robust decision making (RDM), which draws on already-existing knowledge of practitioners to choose actions that are viable in both the short- and long-term.