Knowledge gaps in climate change risk assessment

The report "Knowledge gaps in climate change risk assessment" is the first deliverable from the project “Unpacking climate impact chains - a new generation of climate change risk assessments” (UNCHAIN). The overall objective of the UNCHAIN project is to improve climate change risk assessment frameworks in order to improve the basis for decision-making and climate change adaptation action. The report identifies knowledge gaps in analysing climate change risks relating to the use of the impact chain framework, user-interface and stakeholder involvement, socio-economic scenarios, and societal exposure to climate change and transborder climate change impacts. The objective of this report is to serve as the scientific baseline for a series of case-studies aimed at improving an existing method for analysing local impacts of climate change; namely the “Impact Chain” approach.
The UNCHAIN project emerges from the concept ‘impact chain’ (IC), which is an analytical tool developed to help people understand, systematise, and prioritise the factors that drive climate impact-related risks in a specific system of concern and serve as a backbone for an operational climate risk assessment.

Research design
The research design applied in this study has been to review both research and grey literature. This review has been carried out extensively for two of the chapters (2 and 3), by adopting a ‘systematic review approach’ building on principles from systematic review and mapping methods. For the two other chapters, a strategic and more limited selection of literature has been chosen. See more information about the applied method for each chapter.

Knowledge gaps relating to the current application of the Impact Chain framework
Results from UNCHAIN can contribute to further improvement of the existing IC approach. Key elements include
• a better integration of quantitative, semi-quantitative, qualitative and narrative approaches
• to consider, and compensate for, the potential bias of the participatory elements within the assessment
• to include future vulnerability conditions based on socio-economic scenarios to better depict future critical conditions
• to address uncertainties and confidence levels for each step in the assessment
• to integrate knowledge from other approaches already existing in literature on the normalization and aggregation phases and the definition of critical thresholds

Particularly for more in-depth and scientific assessments, it would be very interesting to forward the IC approach from a ‘linear’ representation of risk components towards more system dynamics-oriented models.

Knowledge gaps relating to co-producing knowledge on climate change risks
As in other studies we see a lack of reflection and transparency with regards to stakeholder involvement in knowledge co-production and participatory processes. We also perceive a need to critically reflect on and be clear about stakeholder roles in the process as well as expected outcomes. This is key to enabling better follow-up and comparison between cases which can lead to improvement and enhanced learning. Thus, in the Unchain case studies, it will be important to carefully consider how these aspects can be captured throughout the different phases of the project. Moreover, in addition to the specified research question of how knowledge co-production can, in a systematic way, best be integrated in the current Impact Chain framework, we also see that the research question specified for this knowledge review – the role of knowledge co-production in climate change risk assessments to better inform decision-making and adaptation action – is still of relevance for the project and should be considered when designing and conducting the case studies.

Knowledge gaps relating to how societal change can affect local climate change risks
While the project tries to contribute to the development of a standardized analytical framework for gaining a better understanding of socio-economic consequences involved in climate change adaptation, it connects different areas of research. To be able to do so, we must understand the current literature on socio-economic scenarios and pathways and how they include climate change vulnerabilities, exposure, and risks. The scenarios developed under the IPCC reports were scrutinized. 

Three important factors have been identified as crucial in the research for UNCHAIN:

• The element of scale. Climate change damages take place on a local or regional scale and do not respect statistical borders, such as federal states, municipalities or countries.
• The element of addressing risk and uncertainty.
• The relevance of different economic indicators for a science-based climate change adaptation strategy. Here, the fact that decision makers as well as the general public often relate much better to socio-economic indicators, such as GDP, production, costs, or well-being, makes economic modelling an indispensable ingredient in the mix used for decision supporting information. 

As an opportunity, the project can build upon the existing work of the project partners. A good starting point seems to be the combination of dynamic IO models with the case study work on regionalization of economic and societal consequences.

Knowledge gaps relating to transborder effects of climate change
Despite the initiation of sophisticated governance structures to manage adaptation at a sub-national, national and international level of governance, the concept of transborder climate change risk and the benefits of a scaled approach to adaptation are yet to be widely recognised. The assessments that have taken place have generated few tangible policy recommendations for how to adapt to transborder climate change risks and even more limited responses and there are significant outstanding questions regarding who ‘owns’ such risks. This ‘blind spot’ of climate change adaptation is clearly weakest at the sub-national level of governance.


UNCHAIN project, Friday 3 July 2020