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Communicating uncertainty in the IPCC's greenhouse gas emissions scenarios

Schenk, Niels J., Lensink, Sander M.
Climatic change 2007 v.82 no.3-4 pp. 293-308
climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, risk, scientists, uncertainty
The issue of climate change required the development of the Special Report on Emission Scenarios (SRES) by the IPCC. The complexity of the subject and the unique science-policy relation resulted in confusion and discussions appeared in popular media like The Economist. This paper reviews scenario literature and SRES, identifies the most vulnerable elements in the communication of SRES. In the communication of GHG emission scenarios through SRES, the weaknesses that have been identified by the authors of this paper are the normative character of climate change assessment, the plausibility of the scenarios, and the risk of simplification of complex messages. The causes of these communicative issues have been identified as the intrinsic difficulties of interdisciplinary science, the uniqueness of the science-policy relation, and the need for a high degree of transparency. This paper suggests improving future communication of complex messages from scientists to their audience by means of clear reasoning when communicating with non-scientists, explicitly normative emission scenarios, and increased stakeholder participation in scenario development.