Climate Simulations: Uncertain Projections for an Uncertain World

Between the fourth and the recent fifth IPCC report, science as well as policy making have made great advances in dealing with uncertainties in global climate models. However, the uncertainties public decision making has to deal with go well beyond what is currently addressed by policy makers and climatologists alike. It is shown in this paper that within an anthropocentric framework, a whole hierarchy of models from various scientific disciplines is needed for political decisions as regards climate change. Via what is sometimes referred to as ‘uncertainty cascade’ in the technical literature, the uncertainties of various models accumulate in the input to political decision making. This paper aims to chart the uncertainties in the multi-disciplinary enterprise of current climate modeling in broad strokes. It is shown that the uncertainty cascade makes it impossible to quantify uncertainties in the form of probability estimates. Moreover the paper highlights how global climate models fail to provide probability estimates. A better treatment of the uncertainties of climate predictions on the political level would require an overhaul of the current IPCC practice that separates the various scientific fields in various working groups
Keywords Climatology  Simulation  Modeling  Tacit knowledge  Uncertainty
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DOI 10.1007/s10838-014-9266-4
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