Improving the Use of Climate Change Information in Mitigation and Adaptation Decision-Making: A Book Review

Why are policy measures for climate change mitigation and adaptation being implemented at such a slow pace, especially when significant efforts are being made to generate climate change information? Communicating Climate Change Information for Decision-Making strives to answer this very important question. In their introduction, editors Silvia Serrao-Neumann, Senior Lecturer at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, and Anne Coudrain, Research Director, Institute of Research for Development, Montpellier, France, contend that decision-makers require the best available information to make the transformational changes demanded by climate change. They claim that difficulties in applying climate change information are mainly related to how information flows between researchers and decision-makers (i.e., between information producers to information users). Serrao-Neumann and Coudrain recognize that information availability does not solely determine whether it is used, and they argue that researchers must transform how they produce and communicate information by forming partnerships with decision-makers through transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research. Reflecting these points, Communicating Climate Change Information for Decision-Making “explores many challenges and opportunities inherent in science and knowledge production and application for climate change adaptation and mitigation” (p. 4). The book’s thirteen chapters provide insights about how to increase the use of existing and new climate change knowledge in decisions, by tracing the information pathways from researcher to decision-maker in three parts: Developing Climate Change Information, Communicating Climate Change Information, and Applying Climate Change Information.

In Part One (Chapters 2-5), the book discusses the context in which climate change information is produced by researchers, and how researchers and decision-makers interact at a systematic level. The focus here is on why science has been ineffective in informing climate change policy, and how researchers can better situate themselves to overcome the challenges of complexity, uncertainty, politicization, local framing, and social consequences inherent to climate change information production. Part Two (Chapters 6-11) outlines how climate change information is exchanged between researchers and decision-makers, as well as the barriers and enablers to information flow between information producers and end users. This second section emphasizes the importance of linking researchers and decision-makers through knowledge co-production, relationships, transdisciplinary research, and dialogic processes. Part Three (Chapters 12-14) presents case studies on the challenges of applying climate change information, and strategies to confront them. This section focuses on difficulties in applying climate change information in local contexts, and how bringing together researchers, citizens, and decision-makers can help to address this issue. Finally, the book concludes by integrating findings on barriers to the use of climate change information in decision-making, and what can be done to enable information exchange between producers and users. In this final chapter, editors Coulter and Coudrain outline steps to facilitate the use of climate change information in decisions: information needs must be identified and drive research, a variety of stakeholders should be involved in the process, those involved in the process should form relationships to build trust, information exchange should occur in a two-way fashion, information production should operate in the appropriate local context, and researchers should consider taking on a bridging role to close the climate change information divide.

Some subject areas could have been explored in more depth. First, few details are provided on where decision-makers tend to retrieve their climate change information. Because the book evaluates the information pathways from producers to end users, it is important to consider which media types are most useful for decision-makers, and how communication format affects information use. Second, although the book briefly touches on involving citizens in the decision-making process, more detail on how this topic relates to concepts of public participation in policy, and why participatory approaches are specifically important for climate change adaptation would have been useful. Finally, further discussion on social networks and the role they play in knowledge co-production might have better emphasized why relationships and trust building are crucial to close the science-policy gap.

Selected Chapter Summaries

Chapter 2. Morgan, E. A., & Di Giulio, G. M. Science and evidence-based climate change policy: Collaborative approaches to improve the science-policy interface (pp. 13-28).

This chapter looks at ways to improve the science-policy interface through the use of collaborative, participatory, and co-learning approaches to overcome uncertainty, complexity, and politicization in climate change information. Edward Morgan of the Climate Change Response Program, Griffith University, Australia, and Gabriela Di Giulio of Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil, urge scientists to become stakeholders in the decision process by taking on a knowledge brokerage role rather than strictly passively providing information.

Chapter 6. Serrao-Neumann, S., & Choy, D. L. Uncertainty and future planning: The use of scenario planning for climate change adaptation planning and decision (pp. 79-90).

In this chapter, Silvia Serrao-Neumannand Darryl Choy, Cities Research Institute, Griffith University, Australia, outline how foresight methodologies such as scenario planning can be an effective way to approach climate change adaptation using participatory engagement and knowledge co-production. They also state that scenario planning facilitates the long-term interactions between researchers and decision-makers needed to build trust relationships.

Chapter 7. Coulter, L. Future climate narratives: Combining personal and professional knowledge to adapt to climate change (pp. 91-103).

Liese Coulter, Lecturer in Science, Technology, and Society at Griffith University, Australia, illustrates how personal and emotional characteristics of decision-makers can play an important role in how they use climate change information, and ultimately how they make decisions. Coulter finds that decision-making on climate change adaptation is specifically dependent on three factors: how much decision-makers imagine the future, the information that influences how decision-makers assess risk, and the different ways that decision-makers exchange knowledge.

Chapter 9. Dubois, G., Stoverinck, F., & Amelung, B. Communicating climate information: Traveling through the decision-making process (pp. 119-137).

Chapter 9 describes decision-making pathways and how information is often interpreted, summarized, and communicated multiple times during the decision-making processes, potentially altering the original message. The authors also detail numerous barriers that can disrupt information pathways, such as poor visualization tools, alternative information priorities, lacking legal frameworks, information complexity, and miscommunicated uncertainties.

Chapter 10. Howes, M. Transforming climate change policymaking: From informing to empowering the local community (pp. 139-148).

In this chapter, Michael Howes, School of Environment and Science, Griffith University, Australia, discusses the importance of empowering local communities to be involved in the climate change adaptation process. Based on a series of research projects, he provides three crucial factors for supporting local climate change adaptation: providing credible, salient, and legitimate public information that is easy to use; promoting a participatory and transparent decision-making process; and providing adequate financial support and incentives for adaptation. Howes finds that strategic use of the internet, public participation events, and targeted local community funding can empower local communities by addressing the above factors.

Chapter 11. Jacobson, C., Crevello, S., Nguon, C., & Chea, C. Resilience and vulnerability assessment as the basis for adaptation dialogue in information-poor environments: A Cambodian example (pp. 149-160).

In Chapter 11, Chris Jacobson of the Sustainability Research Centre, University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia, and co-authors, describe mechanisms to make climate change adaptation decisions in information-poor environments. Using Cambodia as a case study, the authors demonstrate how information production is often not tailored to certain geographical contexts, especially when it is produced elsewhere. The authors highlight community resilience assessments and policy dialogues at the local level as techniques to bring science-policy actors together, identify adaptation options, and lead to long-term learning opportunities for local decision-makers.

Communicating Climate Change Information for Decision-Making 
approaches the use of climate change information in decision-making predominantly from a global standpoint, providing readers with knowledge that is widely applicable. Recommended strategies to encourage information exchange are useful in a variety of geographical contexts – a notable success for the book, as climate change is often a location-specific issue. Another strength is that the authors of each chapter generally write from a researcher perspective, and the result is a broad set of strategies for researchers to employ to improve the uptake of climate change information by decision-makers. However, the target audience also goes beyond the academic community. The content of this book is highly relevant for all actors working at the science-policy interface, including researchers, decision-makers, and bridging/boundary organizations, as a common theme running throughout the volume is that all such groups must work together to achieve climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions. A final strength of the book is its pertinence to issues other than climate change. Many prominent science-policy problems that we face as a society hold similar characteristics to that of climate change, including social consequences, uncertainty, politicization, and value-based factors. Communicating Climate Change Information for Decision-Making contributes to understanding on information flow at the science-policy interface at a time when recognition of the benefits of research-informed decision-making is growing. The book extends previous findings on the science-policy interface, illustrating how researcher and decision-maker interactions can enable scientific information uptake in decisions, even for a complex issue such as climate change.

For further details, check the description of the book at this link and the Table of Contents at this link.


Serrao-Neumann, S. M., Coudrain, A., & Coulter, L. (Eds.) (2018). Communicating climate change information for decision-making. Cham: Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-74669-2. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-74669-2_2


Author: Curtis Martin


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