Overline: Book section
Headline: Tackling Climate Change and Uncertainty in Risk Governance

Experts from politics, business, science and civil society can and should be involved in efforts to identify, analyse, and reduce risks relating to climate change. In a chapter in the anthology Klimawandel in Deutschland (“Climate Change in Germany”), Prof. Ortwin Renn outlines the four stages of the risk governance framework developed by the International Risk Council’s (IRGC): from a pre-assessment of the situation and appraisal of risks and concerns, through to the evaluation of risks and the implementation of risk governance measures as well as risk communication and public participation. 

Risikomanagement abstrakt
The International Risk Council's concept of risk management is divided into four stages: from identifying the situation and analyzing the risk to taking countermeasures and communicating the risk. Shutterstock/ ALamphad

Against the backdrop of broad scientific debate on the risks posed by climate change, questions remain as to how societies should respond and what specific measures should be adopted. Scientific analyses and forecasts are always characterised by uncertainties and ambiguities that give rise to public debate and conflicts. Science alone cannot determine the extent of the risks posed by climate change as these are shaped by the dynamic interplay of natural responses to climate change and human behaviour. Taking this into account, the first step in a risk analysis, the so-called pre-assessment, entails an in-depth investigation of the conditions that affect both the drivers of climate change and the available options for mitigation as well as their political feasibility.

Early public consultation a must

Renn draws on the example of flood prevention and control to explain the “pre-assessment phase” in the IRGC's four-stage concept, which aims to clarify responsibility for preventive measures as well as the legal and political feasibility of basic flood protection options and their financing. According to Renn, public consultations in the form of a “climate dialogue” is essential to addressing people’s perspectives, concerns and fears and obtaining agreement in principle to proposed measures. So-called co-creative approaches, in which protective measures are designed and implemented together with affected communities, are particularly promising. Local residents often call for the development of technical measures such as higher embankments. Environmental associations, on the other hand, tend to favour polders, whereas regional planners often prefer to modify building regulations and planning specifications. It is important that all of these perspectives are included in the risk assessment.

In the second step, scientific methods are used to identify, characterize and – if possible – quantify risks and hazards. Their potential impacts on human health and the environment, the economy and social stability, for example, should also be considered in an analysis of the risk perceptions, fears and attitudes of important social groups and affected communities. Interest groups and affected communities should be involved from here on in order to identify the full range of concerns and ensure that these are reflected in possible solutions and to secure the broadest possible backing.

Weighing the anticipated consequences of solutions

In the third phase, all available data is collated, interpreted and evaluated. Weighing the uncertainties that arise in any risk analysis is especially challenging. The IRGC recommends engaging stakeholders in a risk dialogue that brings together representatives from local government, climate scientists and stakeholders from the field to identify climate impact scenarios that will serve as starting points for the development of risk management options.

Finally, the fourth phase focuses on making decisions about concrete strategies to combat the causes of climate change (mitigation) on the one hand and to adapt to the unavoidable consequences of climate change (adaptation) on the other. These strategies aim to reduce risks in order to avoid extensive damage and losses as far as possible.

The IRCG concept treads new ground by drawing on expertise from the social and economic sciences alongside the natural and technical sciences in the identification, assessment, and management of risks, writes Renn. It is not enough, he argues, to develop new technologies and systemic solutions; rather, the success of climate policy must be measured by its ability to reconcile what is technically possible with that which is socially desirable.

Renn, O. (2023). Klimarisiken: Umgang mit Unsicherheit im gesellschaftlichen Diskurs. In G. P. Brasseur, D. Jacob, & S. Schuck-Zöller (Eds.), Klimawandel in Deutschland (2., überarb. u. erw. Auflage, pp. 391-402). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-662-66696-8_30.