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The role of uncertainty in climate change adaptation strategies—A Danish water management example


  • J. Refsgaard


  • K. Arnbjerg-Nielsen


  • M. Drews


  • K. Halsnæs


  • E. Jeppesen


  • H. Madsen


  • A. Markandya


  • J. Olesen


  • J. Porter


  • J. Christensen



We propose a generic framework to characterize climate change adaptation uncertainty according to three dimensions: level, source and nature. Our framework is different, and in this respect more comprehensive, than the present UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) approach and could be used to address concerns that the IPCC approach is oversimplified. We have studied the role of uncertainty in climate change adaptation planning using examples from four Danish water related sectors. The dominating sources of uncertainty differ greatly among issues; most uncertainties on impacts are epistemic (reducible) by nature but uncertainties on adaptation measures are complex, with ambiguity often being added to impact uncertainties. Strategies to deal with uncertainty in climate change adaptation should reflect the nature of the uncertainty sources and how they interact with risk level and decision making: (i) epistemic uncertainties can be reduced by gaining more knowledge; (ii) uncertainties related to ambiguity can be reduced by dialogue and knowledge sharing between the different stakeholders; and (iii) aleatory uncertainty is, by its nature, non-reducible. The uncertainty cascade includes many sources and their propagation through technical and socio-economic models may add substantially to prediction uncertainties, but they may also cancel each other. Thus, even large uncertainties may have small consequences for decision making, because multiple sources of information provide sufficient knowledge to justify action in climate change adaptation. Copyright The Author(s) 2013

Suggested Citation

  • J. Refsgaard & K. Arnbjerg-Nielsen & M. Drews & K. Halsnæs & E. Jeppesen & H. Madsen & A. Markandya & J. Olesen & J. Porter & J. Christensen, 2013. "The role of uncertainty in climate change adaptation strategies—A Danish water management example," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 18(3), pages 337-359, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:masfgc:v:18:y:2013:i:3:p:337-359
    DOI: 10.1007/s11027-012-9366-6

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Smith, Richard L. & Tebaldi, Claudia & Nychka, Doug & Mearns, Linda O., 2009. "Bayesian Modeling of Uncertainty in Ensembles of Climate Models," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 104(485), pages 97-116.
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    Cited by:

    1. Anil Markandya & Enrica De Cian & Laurent Drouet & Josué M. Polanco-Martìnez & Francesco Bosello, 2016. "Building Uncertainty into the Adaptation Cost Estimation in Integrated Assessment Models," Working Papers 2016.21, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.
    2. Bhave, Ajay Gajanan & Conway, Declan & Dessai, Suraje & Stainforth, David A., 2017. "Barriers and opportunities for robust decision making approaches to support climate change adaptation in the developing world," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 68318, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    3. Carlo Giupponi, 2014. "Decision Support for Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation in Water Resources Management," Water Resources Management: An International Journal, Published for the European Water Resources Association (EWRA), Springer;European Water Resources Association (EWRA), vol. 28(13), pages 4795-4808, October.
    4. Elia A Machado & Samuel Ratick, 2018. "Implications of indicator aggregation methods for global change vulnerability reduction efforts," Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, Springer, vol. 23(7), pages 1109-1141, October.
    5. Lagergren, Fredrik & Jönsson, Anna Maria, 2017. "Ecosystem model analysis of multi-use forestry in a changing climate," Ecosystem Services, Elsevier, vol. 26(PA), pages 209-224.
    6. Dallas Burtraw & Matt Woerman & Alan Krupnick, 2016. "Flexibility and Stringency in Greenhouse Gas Regulations," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 63(2), pages 225-248, February.
    7. Ajay Bhave & Ashok Mishra & Narendra Raghuwanshi, 2014. "Evaluation of hydrological effect of stakeholder prioritized climate change adaptation options based on multi-model regional climate projections," Climatic Change, Springer, vol. 123(2), pages 225-239, March.


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