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How can decision-makers in developing countries incorporate uncertainty about future climate risks into existing planning and policymaking processes?

Publication date:
N. Ranger (ed)
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Climate change is increasingly altering the pattern of climate-related risks and, as a result, developing countries will be among the most severely impacted by climate change. The challenge for policy-makers today is that it is impossible to predict with certainty the future conditions to which adaptation is needed. This paper describes a set of simple, practical principles that aim to reduce the impact of uncertainty on decision-making. The following are the practical principles for firm decision-making:

Consider long-term climate risks within existing planning and policy-making processes such that, where possible, policy-makers avoid making decisions today in ways that could actually lock-in impacts, increasing future vulnerability to climate or leading to expensive retrofits later on.
Move faster and harder on core development objectives.
Focus on additional measures that directly reduce vulnerability to current climate-related risks and limit near-term, irreversible harm to people and ecosystems.
Where dealing with expensive, long-term projects, such as public infrastructure, seek ‘low-regrets’ ways to build in flexibility to cope with the uncertainties at the start in the following ways:                     (i) Design measures and policies to cope with a wider range of possible climate conditions.            (ii) Design measures and policies that can be easily and inexpensively adjusted later to cope with future climate conditions.                                                                                                                                   (iii) Design strategies that use a package of adaptation measures that are sequenced over time to reduce current climate risks while maintaining flexibility to cope with future risks.
In all cases, put in place processes and systems to monitor and regularly review progress and risks, and take action accordingly.

The paper recommends that:

The principles can be applied either at a high level, or in more detail, depending on needs and resources.
Building flexibility into adaptation strategies from the outset makes climate resilience, even under deep uncertainty, much less challenging.
A ‘policy-first’ process to adaptation planning, focusing on adaptation needs rather than detailed climate projections, is also important for managing uncertainties, as well as integrating adaptation within existing planning and policy-making processes and helping to focus limited resources where they are most needed.

The paper concludes that adaptation and development are not opposing priorities that must be weighed up against each other by countries with limited resources. It adds that climate change strengthens the case for pushing ‘faster and harder’ on development priorities and investments, with a greater awareness of long-term risks.