Short course training: Climate Change, models and uncertainty

Submitted by Sukaina Bharwani | published 25th Mar 2011 | last updated 13th Jan 2020
Please note: content is older than 5 years

In this session Ben Smith (SEI Oxford) and Suppakorn Chinvanno (SEA START) introduced some basic concepts around climate change, with the bulk of the presentation focussing on different types of climate model, uncertainty in climate projections and starting to think about how we can make adaptation decisions despite this uncertainty.


We do not know what the future holds. . .but that doesn't mean we can't do anything

We do not know what the future holds. . .but that doesn't mean we can't do anything

The presentation touches on the differing definitions of climate change given by the IPCC and the UNFCCC, deciding that for the duration of the week that when we refer to 'climate change' we are talking about anthropogenic climate change. Key pojnts from the presentation are:

  • We cannot say for certain what the future climate will look like; there are a range of plausible futures.
  • We cannot at the moment say that a certain climate model is better at simulating the future than others (a lot of research into this question is ongoing), so it is vital to look at a range of projections from different models.
  • We can't simply discard information from a model giving us a result we 'don't like'; the most extreme projections in the range are not necessarily wrong.
  • In an ideal world we would know exactly what changes would take place and we could base our decisions on information that was certain. In the real world however decisions are made all the time without all the information we would like, and climate change adaptation is no different; we must use the information we have to plot the best course of action while taking uncertainty into account. See Robust Decision Making
  • It is crucial to understand the current climate and socio-economic context in order to understand what aspects of climate change are important in each specific case, and to be able to make sense of the climate projections.

Some of the questions raised by participants were:

Download Ben's presentation here and Suppakorn's presentation here