Inconsistent recognition of uncertainty in studies of climate change impacts on forests

M. Petr, G. Vacchiano, D. Thom, P. Mairota, M. Kautz, Luísa Maria da Silva Gonçalves, R. Yousefpour, S. Kaloudis, C. P.O. Reyer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
5 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Background. Uncertainty about climate change impacts on forests can hinder mitigation and adaptation actions. Scientific enquiry typically involves assessments of uncertainties, yet different uncertainty components emerge in different studies. Consequently, inconsistent understanding of uncertainty among different climate impact studies (from the impact analysis to implementing solutions) can be an additional reason for delaying action. In this review we (a) expanded existing uncertainty assessment frameworks into one harmonised framework for characterizing uncertainty, (b) used this framework to identify and classify uncertainties in climate change impacts studies on forests, and (c) summarised the uncertainty assessment methods applied in those studies. Methods. We systematically reviewed climate change impact studies published between 1994 and 2016. We separated these studies into those generating information about climate change impacts on forests using models -'modelling studies', and those that used this information to design management actions-'decision-making studies'. We classified uncertainty across three dimensions: nature, level, and location, which can be further categorised into specific uncertainty types. Results. We found that different uncertainties prevail in modelling versus decision-making studies. Epistemic uncertainty is the most common nature of uncertainty covered by both types of studies, whereas ambiguity plays a pronounced role only in decision-making studies. Modelling studies equally investigate all levels of uncertainty, whereas decision-making studies mainly address scenario uncertainty and recognised ignorance. Finally, the main location of uncertainty for both modelling and decision-making studies is within the driving forces-representing, e.g. socioeconomic or policy changes. The most frequently used methods to assess uncertainty are expert elicitation, sensitivity and scenario analysis, but a full suite of methods exists that seems currently underutilized. Discussion & Synthesis. The misalignment of uncertainty types addressed by modelling and decision-making studies may complicate adaptation actions early in the implementation pathway. Furthermore, these differences can be a potential barrier for communicating research findings to decision-makers.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113003
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume14
Issue number11
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2019

Keywords

  • Decision-making
  • Modelling
  • Science communication
  • Uncertainty assessment methods
  • Uncertainty recognition

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