Beyond uncertainty quantification: new challenges in the epistemology of climate change adaptation

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Submission Summary
Anthropogenic climate change (CC) poses a serious global threat, and human responses to this problem are usually framed in terms of mitigation (the reduction of human actions that contribute to climate change) and adaptation (the response to actual or expected impacts of changes in the climate with the aim of reducing vulnerabilities and enhancing opportunities). So far, philosophers interested in climate change science have mostly focused on the epistemic and value theoretic issues in climate modelling (Katzav and Parker 2018), independently on how information flows from experts (climate scientists) to lay people (the public, policy makers, etc.), and the decisions-types that take climate change information into account. One promising way in which philosophers have analysed the dependency between the epistemology of climate science and the purpose it serves in the so-called “adequacy-for-purpose” view (Parker 2009, 2020; Baumberger et al. 2017), a pragmatic approach to model evaluation. However, this approach only focuses on physical climate modelling, possibly leaving out some important issues that arise in generating decision-relevant information in the context of climate change adaptation. Here, we take a different approach. We argue that while mitigation and adaptation are both important responses to CC, supporting mitigation and adaptation actions requires a different type of information, that incurs in different epistemic and value theoretical problems. Information derived from climate change science for mitigation action requires information at the global scale, but information for adaptation requires climatic information at local spatial scales and long temporal scales. If this information need is taken to involve only considerations about climate models (as is mostly done for deriving information to support mitigation), the high degrees of uncertainty tied to information for adaptation can hinder effective adaptation decision making (Dessai et al. 2009). These considerations have prompted physical climate scientists and environmental social scientists to develop new approaches to developing information for adaptation. We first highlight some epistemic issues that have been raised in approaching developing information for CC adaptation in the same way as CC mitigation (e.g. Dessai and Hulme 2004, Wilby and Dessai, 2010). We then show that producing CC information requires taking elements that go beyond the physics of climate change into account, such as local vulnerabilities and attitudes towards risk of decision makers (Adger et al 2009, Shepherd and Lloyd 2021). Finally, we illustrate a new methodology that addresses this need (Goulart et al. 2021, Ciullo et al. 2021) and identify what novel epistemic and value theoretic issues this methodology entails.
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Submission Type
Research Fellow
University of Leeds
University of Leeds

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