2011-02-17 05:03:41Degrees of Risk Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security



Degrees of Risk Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security Nick Mabey, Jay Gulledge, Bernard Finel and Katherine Silverthorne

This appears to be essential reading for policy makers, quite a long read but there is a summary you can download.

I haven't read it in detail yet, but it tends to emphasise that uncertainty isn't an excuse for inaction so we need to plan for contingencies and still need to prevent or adapt to the worst case scenarios.  Although these scenarios are unlikely this doesn't mean we can ignore them. It criticises climate scientists for ignoring the most extreme scenarios perhaps for being frightened of sounding alarmist. 

I like these quotes in the report

 "You have now had … a debate here between people who are giving you the [central estimate] and people giving you the [low-end estimate]. This is certainly not both sides. If you want both sides we have to have somebody in here who is [having a] panicked conniption fit on the [high] end, because you’re hearing one very optimistic side – we wish Dr. Michaels and Dr. Lindzen were correct – against the assessed central value." Dr. Richard Alley (Pennsylvania State University):

(Perhaps the hearing should have included James Lovelock for scientific balance?)

"We never have 100 per cent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty,something bad is going to happen on the battlefield. That’s something we know."

General Gordon R. Sullivan, former Chief of Staff US Army; Chair CNA MilitaryAdvisory Board on National Security and the Threat of Climate Change 

My view is that the report is a bit weak on the on quantitative economics.  Surely policy makers will need to know how much spending can we logically justify based on the likelihood of adverse climate change scenarios and cost of preventing each one.  For example, the most likely change in climate isn't the logical scenerio to plan for.  This is due to the skewness or long tail of the probability density of catastrophic or costly events.  This means that the average weighted cost will be higher than the average cost.

Perhaps this misses an essential point though since how can we economically cost extinctions, flooded treasures of antiquity or human deaths?  If a 20 year old man was told there is a 1% chance of being executed next month, how much would he pay to have a 100% chance of being let free? Perhaps everything he had?   In this regard perhaps we need to mitigate against the worst case, irrespective of cost.