Understanding Climate Change as Risk: A review of IPCC guidance for decision-making

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This paper examines the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recommendation for risk-based approaches to knowing and communicating policy problems, and its suitability as a general directive for public policy decision-makers and their advisors. Although explicitly ambiguous about what a risk-based approach is or should be, this paper shows how the IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report nonetheless perpetuates ideals of objective risk calculation for rational policymaking. Policy evidence can benefit from context-appropriate problem-framings, as the IPCC concedes. Risk is one of a number of useful conceptual frames for understanding climate policy problems. This paper contributes to climate-related policymaking by describing how IPCC decision-scientists can enhance their guidance to account for the politics of policymaking. It cautions against continuing assumptions or prescriptions for the rational application of objective risk assessment to policymaking, and discusses some of the challenges faced to date by the risk-based approach when it has been applied to policymaking. The paper then briefly examines how we might better situate understandings of risk within alternative conceptual frames to advance climate change policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1424-1439
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number11
Early online date7 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Climate change
  • risk
  • IPCC
  • evidence-based policy


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