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Case study

An example of the importance of communicating uncertainty in a science-policy interface

This led to significant differences in the estimation of sea-level rise to be used in infrastructure planning by coastal communities, making it difficult to take practical, long-term steps under a risk-based approach.
It can also be noted that Working Group I and Working Group II (assessing impacts, vulnerability and adaptation) chose different approaches to dealing with uncertainty,
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Robert O Keohane, Princeton University, USA

Keohane et al. (2014) focused on the ethics of communication between scientists and policymakers on issues such as climate change. As a case study, they analysed the treatment of possible sea-level rise as a result of the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland in the 4th Assessment of the IPCC.

Sea-level rise can be projected using computer simulations of global climate models and by focusing on three processes: thermal expansion of the oceans, mountain glacier melt, and ice sheet disintegration via melting and dynamical loss (or the sliding of ice sheets into the ocean). Sliding is considered the major contributing factor in Antarctica; however, scientists did not have models to estimate future changes in sliding which resulted in a high degree of uncertainty in the projections. The IPCC Working Group I assessing the physical scientific aspects of the climate system and climate change (IPCC, 2007) gave an uneven treatment to this third factor relative to the other two, creating confusion with projections lacking clarity and transparency.


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