Making better use of scientific information - IPCC authors play 'Decisions for the decade'09/01/2014 - by Fleur Monasso, Climate Centre
A group of nearly 40 of the world’s leading climate scientists this week took time out from an IPCC authors’ meeting to play the Climate Centre game Decisions for the decade – intended to promote discussion about the interface between climate information and real-world decision-making.
The scientists, including IPCC chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri and the co-chairs of the IPCC Working Groups, are authors of the Synthesis Report (SYR) that accompanies the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report on global climate change or “AR5”.
Their meeting at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute was one of a series doing groundwork for the SYR, being finalized later this year.
Making scientific findings understandable and relevant to policy-makers is an important last-mile for scientists to travel – in climate no less than in other fields.
The SYR, which includes a summary for policy-makers, has to be written in a “non-technical style”, according to the IPCC procedures, and be largely self-contained.
It is strictly based on the Working Group reports released over the course of the year – on science, impacts and adaptation, and mitigation – and must be approved by governments.
In Decisions for the decade – a game the Climate Centre designed last year for the World Bank's Chief Economist for Sustainable Development, now specially adapted for the IPCC – the scientist-players became policy-makers facing changing risk.
They had to choose between “investing” 10 beans for production in the short term or reducing climate-related drought and flood impacts.
Their choices, plus 10 rolls of the dice, determined whether they won points or faced a humanitarian crisis.
While initially players could use their mathematical skills to optimize their investments in light of the odds given by the dice, risk quickly rose and complexity increased.
In the final round, the authors were confronted with even greater uncertainty and had to base their decisions on information from their own IPCC reports.
“The game was a great tool for experiential learning,” said one of the two winners, Professor Karen O’Brien, of the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo, Norway.
“It influences both cognitive and emotional approaches to climate risks, and is fun to play.”
The other winner was Professor Ramon Pichs, co-chair of IPCC Working Group III.
Dr Pachauri, described Decisions for the decade as both “entertaining and stimulating”, with “enormous learning value”.
“The game brought home to those who played it the stark reality of risks from climate change,” he said, “and how afflicted communities can minimize that risk by informed and enlightened action.”
“Risk has become a key theme in AR5,” adds Climate Centre Director, Dr Maarten van Aalst, a Lead Author in IPCC Working Group II, who facilitated the Decisions for the decade session.
“We hope the game helped the authors think about how policy-makers actually make decisions and interpret – or sometimes misinterpret – IPCC information.”
Dr Thomas Stocker, a professor of climate and environmental physics at the University of Bern, Switzerland, and co-chair of Working Group I, said he was now “embracing the concept of risk”.
The full AR5 – comprising the three working groups and the SYR – will this year provide the international scientific community’s up-to-date view of climate change and its effects.
Last September, when the official summary of the first of these working-group reports, on the science behind climate change, was released, the IFRC called for the findings to be translated into tangible action on the ground.
The second IPCC working group report, which also covers human vulnerability and is regarded as most immediately relevant to the humanitarian community, is due to be released in Japan at the end of March.
The final SYR – completing the AR5 series – will be adopted at the end of October at the IPCC’s 40th session in the Danish capital, Copenhagen.
An IPCC scientist calculates the probability of floods and droughts during the Climate Centre game Decisions for the decade, played in the city of Utrecht near the the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute. (Photo: Fleur Monasso/Climate Centre)