For nearly three decades, the central goal in international climate policy had been to set the political agenda—to engage all countries on the need for action. So long as that was the goal, it was sufficient for policy-makers to focus on simple indicators of climate change, such as global average surface temperature. With the 2015 Paris Agreement, governments launched a process that can move beyond setting agendas to coordinating national policies to manage the climate. Next month in Marrakesh, diplomats will convene to flesh out the Agreement. They need to focus on the infrastructure of data and analysis that will be needed as the Agreement becomes operational. The scientific community can help by identifying better lagging indicators to describe what has changed as policy efforts progress, and leading indicators to focus policy on the right risks as the planet warms….
“…Full-blown efforts to manage climate risks will be extremely expensive. Even in the least-developed countries, the cost will likely far exceed new funds promised under the Paris Agreement. Leverage will be essential so that societies of all types build and embed effective risk management. Although local circumstances vary enormously and each society must work out its own details, a common set of indicators, well-established models, and case studies can help.
The good news is that governments, nongovernmental organizations and businesses are poised to do this if the scientific community can organize climate risk information in ways that align better with policy needs. Much of the needed data and many methods already exist. What is missing are demonstrations of how these data and methods can be used and improved for understanding systemic risks. In practice, it will be hard to work out the best examples within large intergovernmental processes in which formal decision-making requires consensus. Formal agreements on the best approaches to risk indicators are unlikely. Instead, volunteers are needed to show the way. The United States and the European Union are developing climate services that will provide more concrete assessments of risk and response.
Such national efforts, along with local ones, should be designed with an eye to what they teach the rest of the world about what works. Similarly, commercial attention to climate risk management is rising quickly as data and analysis tools become available. Already, many firms are reporting their exposure to regulatory risks, as demanded by many shareholders and a growing number of stock exchanges. Science should help decision-makers understand their true exposure to risk and the full range of management options. The role of international policy processes should be to ensure that such experimentation with methods and approaches happens more globally….”