All FSI Projects

Use of Climate Information in International Negotiation for Adaptation Resources

Durban 2011 UN logo
Durban 2011 UN hl
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) attends the opening of the high-level segment of the COP17/CMP7 UN Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa. He is flanked by Christiana Figueres (left), Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa.
Photo credit: UN photo/Mark Garten


Michela Biasutti
Doherty Associate Research Scientist
Columbia University
David Lobell
Michael Gerrard
Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice
Columbia Law School
Adam Sobel
Professor, Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, and Earth and Environmental Sciences
Columbia University

Adaptation of vulnerable areas to climate change is---and will continue to be---an important subject of negotiations taking place in several international forums, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; the Major Economies negotiations; and the G-8 talks. Ideally, adaptation assistance to any given nation would be commensurate with the social and economic impacts of future climate change and the cost of the required adaptation measures. Instead, neither is known. Climatic changes themselves are only projected in broad strokes: important details at the regional and sub-seasonal scale---such as the changes in frequency of monsoon breaks in the Niger River basin, to make just one example---are not simulated directly by current climate models. Moreover, determining the economic impact of a given climate scenario is challenging, as is assessing the cost and efficacy of adaptation scenarios, as demonstrated by the controversy that followed the Stern review.

Yet, as imperfect and incomplete as it is, the output of climate and economic models must inform negotiations for international adaptation funds---if those are not to be solely the result of political expediency. The aim of this project is to bring together climate scientists, economists, and law scholars to identify how to best achieve the goal of bringing climate and economic modeling results to bear on these negotiations. In particular, we want to identify (i) what is the most useful information that can be delivered to negotiators by state-of-the-art climatic and economic models, (ii) how that information can be most effectively presented, and (iii) how measures of uncertainty can be brought into the negotiation process as additional, valuable information.

The proposed project is organized around three main questions that address (i) the nature of the information needed for the best allocation of resources, (ii) the form in which such information should be framed in order for it to be most comprehensible and useful to negotiators, and (iii) the extent to which uncertainty in the projections is now used to discount climate impact information and how instead uncertainty estimates can be reformulated as valuable information regarding the range and likelihood of possible outcomes and incorporated in the negotiation process.