Using Climate Information for Decision Making

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

By Shirley McGill, Climate and Society 2014

As we increase our knowledge of the earth’s climate and how human activity is disrupting the delicate balance of air, land and water that creates our environment it is becoming clear that future generations will not be living in the same environmental conditions as us.

If we want to provide a similar or better lifestyle for future generations we need to incorporate climate information in government decision making to safeguard current investment against the negative effects of climate change. It sounds obvious, but it is deceptively difficult.

Many decision makers within governments understand that changes in climate as well as a host of other factors will impact their ability to deliver sustainable growth. However, the exact impacts can be difficult to plan for.

That’s not to say it’s impossible, but ,there are few examples that show the potential (or realized) benefits of incorporating climate information into decision making. The projects that are out there are also often aimed at a single issue or location, making them too narrow to provide useful guidance for setting broad policies.

Photo: Gates Foundation/Flickr

Photo: Gates Foundation/Flickr

But there are tantalizing efforts that show how there could be a path forward. The International Research Institute for Climate and Society and the Columbia Global Center | Africa have been working with African meteorologists and health practitioners to use climate information to make decisions about malaria control and eradication. The focus on malaria could be classified as narrow, but the work is being done at national and regional scales. And malaria is being used as a ‘pathfinder’ to examine the benefits of applying climate information to a public health issue before expanding it more broadly to the health sector.

For many officials climate information is a new factor to include in decision making and almost everything needs to be created from scratch: a robust historical record of climate data, legislation and procedures for sharing information between departments and the skills to use climate information to set policy. The project requires increasing climate literacy across all areas of government so public investment in sustainable development is not wasted. This is even more important in developing countries where they can’t afford to squander the capital they invest. It takes a significant amount of time and effort amidst competing priorities and finite financial and human resources.

The experience of the IRI and CGC is that this will be a long road. The pathfinder approach as well as using climate information as part of impact evaluations in health interventions are the first steps down this road. But much more needs to be done before governments can say today’s investments are designed for a changing climate and will be able to support future generations.

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