Comparative risk assessment to inform adaptation priorities for the natural environment: observations from the first UK climate change risk assessment

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Risk assessment can potentially provide an objective framework to synthesise and prioritise climate change risks to inform adaptation policy. However, there are significant challenges in the application of comparative risk assessment procedures to climate change, particularly for the natural environment. The inherent complexity of ecological responses means that uncertainty is a defining
feature of risk management for biodiversity and ecosystems. Many risks are interdependent and have a significant socio-economic as well as a climate component. These challenges are reviewed with particular reference to statutory climate change risk assessment procedures for the UK as guided by systematic review of existing evidence. More progress was achieved on risk screening and
prioritisation compared to risk quantification. Robust strategies to manage risk were identified as those that coordinate organisational resources to enhance ecosystem resilience, and to accommodate inevitable change, rather than to meet specific species or habitats targets. Ultimately adaptation decisions also involve subjective and contextual components of risk appraisal including ethical issues regarding the level of human intervention in the natural environment and the proposed outcomes of any intervention. Goals for risk assessment therefore need to be more clearly explicated and assumptions on tolerable risk declared as a primer for further dialogue on expectations for managed outcomes. Ecosystem-based adaptation may mean that traditional conservation goals and existing regulatory frameworks no longer provide the best guide for long-term risk management thereby challenging the viability of some existing practices.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)937-963
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2015


  • risk assessment; adaptation; climate change; ecosystems; biodiversity

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