eCite Digital Repository

Scientific uncertainty and climate change: Part I. Uncertainty and unabated emissions


Lewandowsky, S and Risbey, JS and Smithson, M and Newell, BR and Hunter, JR, Scientific uncertainty and climate change: Part I. Uncertainty and unabated emissions, Climatic Change, 124, (1-2) pp. 21-37. ISSN 0165-0009 (2014) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2014 Springer Science

DOI: doi:10.1007/s10584-014-1082-7


Uncertainty forms an integral part of climate science, and it is often used to argue against mitigative action. This article presents an analysis of uncertainty in climate sensitivity that is robust to a range of assumptions. We show that increasing uncertainty is necessarily associated with greater expected damages from warming, provided the function relating warming to damages is convex. This constraint is unaffected by subjective or cultural risk-perception factors, it is unlikely to be overcome by the discount rate, and it is independent of the presumed magnitude of climate sensitivity. The analysis also extends to "second-order" uncertainty; that is, situations in which experts disagree. Greater disagreement among experts increases the likelihood that the risk of exceeding a global temperature threshold is greater. Likewise, increasing uncertainty requires increasingly greater protective measures against sea level rise. This constraint derives directly from the statistical properties of extreme values. We conclude that any appeal to uncertainty compels a stronger, rather than weaker, concern about unabated warming than in the absence of uncertainty.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Uncertainty, unabated emissions, decision making, climate change
Research Division:Earth Sciences
Research Group:Oceanography
Research Field:Physical oceanography
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Management of Antarctic and Southern Ocean environments
Objective Field:Antarctic and Southern Ocean oceanic processes
UTAS Author:Hunter, JR (Dr John Hunter)
ID Code:92495
Year Published:2014
Web of Science® Times Cited:34
Deposited By:CRC-Antarctic Climate & Ecosystems
Deposited On:2014-06-20
Last Modified:2017-11-01

Repository Staff Only: item control page