News from the Columbia Climate School

A Q+A on climate risk management in practice

I had the pleasure of interviewing Graeme Hammer from the Univ. of Queensland a while back about his experiences incorporating climate information into the decision-making process of farmers in Australia. Something he emphasized a number of times during our conversation: simply giving out additional information such as seasonal forecasts isn’t likely to solve any problems or reduce climate risks unless we make sure farmers, water managers or other decision makers can properly assess that information and understand all the ways in which it can–and cannot–be used to make decisions in their sector.

Here’s an excerpt:

So if a forecast called for 60% likelihood of drier-than-normal conditions, what would farmers do?

GH: Some farmers might say, “I can use that information”, while others would have no use for it. A key part of the whole communication of using forecasts is about trying to make the point that we can’t tell you whether this season is going to be a good one or bad one. We’re only shifting the odds. Some people can handle that and others can’t. It’s about their capacity to understand what a climate forecast is and how it’s different than a simple weather forecast they might read in the paper. It’s also about how to get from the simple piece of forecast information to the understanding of whether it might change a decision….We’re not giving people just a forecast. We’re giving them the piece of information on which they need to be able to assess their decision position. People making the decision need to know what the consequence of a forecast would be on an outcome if they were to do this or that…It isn’t the climate forecast, stupid! Giving the farmer just a climate forecast is basically useless. The interaction of the forecast with the decision set at the farmer’s disposal is where the critical action resides. And this involves profit-risk trade-offs and personal perspectives about them. This basic overall principle is the same for all sectors.

You can read the full interview here, as well as listen to selected audio clips.

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