Conference: Ethics and Politics of Climate Change - Challenges for Human Rights? Utrecht, 23 and 24 January 2009 Climate Change, Uncertainty and the Precautionary Principle. Dr. Jeroen P. van der Sluijs [email protected] www.jvds.nl.
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Conference: Ethics and Politics of Climate Change - Challenges for Human Rights? Utrecht, 23 and 24 January 2009Climate Change, Uncertainty and the Precautionary Principle
Dr. Jeroen P. van der [email protected] www.jvds.nl
Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development and InnovationUtrecht University
Centre d'Economie et d'Ethique pour l'Environnement et le Développement, Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, France
paradigmatic shift from a posteriori control (civil liability as a curative tool) to the level of a priori control (anticipatory measures) of risks
Now perverted by Emission Trading Systems:
(in stead of polluter pays to clean up the mess)
UNESCO-COMEST Expert Group 2005 report
New working definition PP UNESCO COMEST
When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm.
Morally unacceptable harm refers to harm to humans or the environment that is
The judgment of plausibility should be grounded in scientific analysis. Analysis should be ongoing so that chosen actions are subject to review.
Uncertainty may apply to, but need not be limited to, causality or the bounds of the possible harm.
Actions are interventions that are undertaken before harm occurs that seek to avoid or diminish the harm. Actions should be chosen that are proportional to the seriousness of the potential harm, with consideration of their positive and negative consequences, and with an assessment of the moral implications of both action and inaction. The choice of action should be the result of a participatory process.
Typical characteristics (Funtowicz & Ravetz):
Knowledge Quality Assessment is essential
Atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases CO2and CH4 over the last four glacial-interglacial cycles fromthe Vostok ice core record. The present-day values andestimates for the year 2100 are also shown.
Adapted from Petit et al. (1999) Nature 399, 429-436 and theIPCC(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Third AssessmentReport by the PAGES (Past Global Changes) International ProjectOffice.
A practical problem:
Protecting a strategic fresh-water resource
5 scientific consultants addressed same question:
“which parts of this area are most vulnerable to nitrate pollution and need to be protected?”
(Refsgaard, Van der Sluijs et al, 2006)
'evidence evaluation view'
'complex systems view / post-normal view'
How to act upon such uncertainty?
Probability distributions of climate sensitivity. Obtained using linear statistical estimation of GCM predictions likely to result from a large “perturbed physics ensemble” sampling the model parameter space comprehensively, with (red) and without (blue) weighting according to the estimated reliability of model versions based on correspondence to observations. (Murphy et al., Nature, 11 Aug 2004)
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005
by the end of the century, climate change and its impacts may be the dominant direct driver of biodiversity loss and changes in ecosystem services globally. It will increase the risk of extinction for many species, especially those already at risk due to factors such as low population numbers, restricted or patchy habitats and limited climatic ranges.
(Thomas et al., 2004)
Arctic Climate Impact Assessment 2004:
“At least half the summer sea ice in the Arctic is projected to melt by the end of this century, along with a significant portion of the Greenland Ice Sheet, as the region is projected to warm an additional 4-7 C by 2100. “
“The area impacted by recent summer melting on Greenland is significantly larger than that previously observed. It appears that climate changes over the last two decades have influenced patterns of snow accumulation and melting on Greenland.”
(M. Drinkwater, NASA, 1997)
Extreme weather in a changing climate
Small shift in the mean =
Huge change in frequency of extremes.
Statistical uncertainty in “predicted” change in 2050 precipitation over The Netherlands according to climateprediction.net, compared to range of KNMI scenarios
(Dessai & Van der Sluijs, 2007)
(R. Kerr, Science, 16 September 2005)
Source: IPCC 2007 synthesis report
10. Virtually certain
9. Beyond a reasonable doubt
8. Clear and Convincing Evidence
7. Clear Showing
6. Substantial and credible evidence
5. Preponderance of the Evidence
4. Clear indication
3. Probable cause: reasonable grounds for belief
2. Reasonable, articulable grounds for suspicion
1. No reasonable grounds for suspicion
0. Insufficient even to support a hunch or conjecture
Disagreement has 2 dimensions:
- How do we appraise the level of evidence of risk
- What level of intervention is justified given a the level of evidence
1. Environmental absolutist
2. Cautious environmentalist
3. Environmental centrist
4. Technological optimist
5. Scientific absolutist
C. Weiss, 2003, “Scientific Uncertainty and Science-Based Precaution”, Politics, Law and Economics 3: 137–166
Implications for science-policy interface:
S. Dessai and J.P. van der Sluijs, 2007, Uncertainty and Climate Change Adaptation - a Scoping Study, report NWS-E-2007-198, Department of Science Technology and Society, Copernicus Institute, Utrecht University. 95 pp. http://www.nusap.net
P. Kloprogge, J.P. van der Sluijs and A. Wardekker, 2007, Uncertainty communication: issues and good practice, report NWS-E-2007-199, Department of Science Technology and Society, Copernicus Institute, Utrecht University. 60 pp. http://www.nusap.net