Policymakers and Scientists Must Unite to Protect Coasts

By SEAN DUFFY

(CN) – Policymakers and scientists must work together to develop meaningful strategies for protecting coastal areas from the threat of rising sea levels globally, a new study finds, as governmental decision-making often fails to reflect the most current information.

In a paper published Friday in the journal Science, researchers from Princeton University and Pennsylvania State University say that climate change research must be adjusted to enable informed policy updates.

“An effective approach to managing coastal risk should couple research priorities to policy needs, enabling judicious decision-making while focusing research on a few key questions,” write co-authors Michael Oppenheimer and Richard Alley.

Research often outpaces estimates covered in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessments, leaving public officials out of the loop on recent developments as threats posed by climate change rapidly approach.

“Policymakers are left without a means to contextualize recent estimates, which remain highly uncertain,” the authors write. “But ignoring such estimates could prove disastrous.”

Failing to properly pair modern research with effective policies is risky, as waiting several decades to determine political adjustments would delay efforts to limit the effects of climate change until global sea levels have already risen by seven feet.

“Scientists can contribute to improving the basis for policy judgments by presenting policymakers with projections that are as fully probabilistic as possible while also characterizing deep uncertainties, rather than just handing the worse-case or most-likely estimates,” the team writes.

“Coastal protection is a risk management issue,” they add, “and risks cannot be fully managed outside a probabilistic context.”

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