The role of regional climate projections in managing complex socio-ecological systems

J D Daron, Kate Sutherland, Christopher Jack, Bruce Hewitson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Climate is one of many factors to be considered in adapting systems to environmental and societal change and often it is not the most important factor. Moreover, given considerable model inadequacies, irreducible uncertainties, and poor accessibility to model output, we may legitimately ask whether or not regional climate projections ought to have a central role in guiding climate change adaptation decisions. This question is addressed by analysing the value of regional downscaled climate model output in the management of complex socio-ecological systems (SESs) vulnerable to climate change. We demonstrate, using the example of the Dwesa–Cwebe region in South Africa, that the management of such systems under changing environmental and socio-economic conditions requires a nuanced and holistic approach that addresses cross-scale system interdependencies and incorporates “complexity thinking”. We argue that the persistent focus on increasing precision and skill in regional climate projections is misguided and does not adequately address the needs of society. However, this does not imply that decision makers should exclude current and future generations of regional climate projections in their management processes. On the contrary, ignoring such information, however uncertain and incomplete, risks the implementation of maladaptive policies and practices. By using regional climate projections to further explore uncertainties and investigate cross-scale system dependencies, such information can be used to aid understanding of how SESs might evolve under alternative future societal and environmental scenarios.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2014

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