What’s Missing When It Comes to Managing Climate Risk?

This blog post was originally published by Dr. Mark C. Trexler on the DNV Climate Risk Blog, April 6, 2011.

Business leaders have been hearing for years that the science of climate change doesn’t matter any more, because the policy train has “left the station.”  I submit that neither point is true, and that we need to expand our climate risk management toolbox.

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed almost 20 years ago by a majority of the world’s countries based on agreement to “avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”  Today, there are no policies in place or even under serious international discussion that would prevent this unwanted outcome.

While a variety of policy cars are spread around the train yard, it can’t objectively be argued that the policy train to “preventing dangerous interference” has left the station.  The increasing focus on climate change adaptation is a reflection of this reality.  Relying on adaptation as a primary climate change strategy isn’t a rational risk management response; it’s a recognition of policy stalemate.

Is the problem continuing scientific uncertainty when it comes to climate change?  I don’t think so.  The climate change risks posed by the future trajectory of a “business as usual” fossil energy economy have been the subject of scientific consensus for years.  And we routinely develop policy in areas characterized by just as much if not more forecasting uncertainty.

A discipline that we clearly need to focus on more intensively is that of how we perceive and manage risk.  As is effectively argued in the recent Degrees of Risk: Defining a Risk Management Framework for Climate Security, we are not treating climate change risk in the same way we treat other risks.  If we better characterized and communicated climate risk, it might prove to be a key locomotive that’s been missing from our climate policy train!

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