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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

An Experimental Viewpoint

(c) Neil Palmer

(c) Photography by Neil Palmer

An avalanche of press releases, interviews, conferences, papers, proposals, among others, have been going on during the last month in regards of climate change. Impacts have been estimated using a substantially unmanageable number of different approaches and hundreds of different numbers have been published by different institutions, or worded by scientists, politicians, practitioners, among others. Let’s face it, we simply don’t know what could happen precisely, so, I wonder where does the necessity of putting numbers to this kind of things come from? One may argue that we need to be practical, clear and concise to guide policy-making processes, but then if everybody tries the same with different numbers, what you will have as result is a multidimensional “confussion” matrix of approaches-by-results-by-topic, or basically, all the world leaders with different numbers on their heads, trying to get an agreement when even the numbers themselves do not agree. Of course, we have the IPCC, but a lot of science and reporting has been done since the fourth assessment report, and until the 5th assessment report comes around, we need to turn our minds a bit more experimentalist.

Regardless of the estimates, I would say that what is important is the degree at which we can respond to changes, independently of the direction of such changes. In other words, we need to determine current vulnerabilities in terms of changing climates, so that we can be prepared. Experimentation can certainly address this issue. The dilemma then arises because experimentation takes lots of time and financial resources, but what if we don’t need additional planned experimentation? Every single cropping cycle of a farmer is a trial, and, in addition, thousands of formally planned trials have been done by numerous research and development institutions. Most of these data, however, remain unaccessible either because they’re not taken on field, they’re not digitized, or they’re not shared. We need to turn our minds a bit more collaborative, and perhaps we can get interesting results from these bunches of data.

No matter what numbers we do put (or even if we put a single number) under a prediction of climate change impacts on, say, agriculture, ecosystem services, food quality, food security, economy, biodiversity, conservation, or whatever. What matters, I would say, is the degree at which we actually know the response of the current system to a progressive -and agressive climatic change; and there is work to do on that side, we only need to do it.

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