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Uncertainty guidance

When confronted with assembling data and information to support the decision-making process there is a need to understand its nature and how it can and should not be used.  One aspect of particular interest is that for all data and information there are associated uncertainties. The nature and extent of these uncertainties should be considered when deciding how to use any data and information, and the types of decision that can be drawn.

A natural reaction when confronted with such uncertainties (e.g.,  uncertainties  in climate information) is to ask those providing the information  to improve knowledge and understanding, and to provide, as soon as possible, more accurate forecasts of future conditions. Unfortunately, even though knowledge will improve, uncertainty will remain inherent and therefore needs to be considered in adaptation decision making.

This guidance aims to help decision makers in understanding the sources of uncertainty in climate information that are most relevant for adaptation planning. It also provides suggestions for dealing with uncertainty in adaptation planning and for the communication of uncertainty. The guidance is organised around three main topics that are listed below. For each of these topics the guidance first provides basic background reading and next addresses a list of ‘Frequently asked questions' related to uncertainty in adaptation planning. The guidance borrows from existing guidelines for modelling, interpreting, and communicating uncertainty. These sources are listed as background reading.

Notwithstanding the advice in this guidance, dealing with uncertainty can never be reduced to a simple cookbook. In the end each adaptation planning process will have its own characteristics. The debate among decision makers and other involved parties about how to deal with uncertainty in the planning process is a crucial element of policy making. The authors of this guidance hope that the answers and examples provided in the guidance can stimulate this debate.