UK Foresight on Floods

April 28th, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

The United Kingdom’s Office of Science and Technology has a fascinating project called Foresight. According to its website, “The Foresight programme either identifies potential opportunities for the economy or society from new science and technologies, or it considers how future science and technologies could address key future challenges for society.”

The project is part technology assessment, part science and technology policy, and part delineation of policy alternatives.

Foresight came to my attention because of its recent report on Flood and Coastal Defence, but it also has projects in Brain Science, Addiction and Drugs, Cyber Trust and Crime Prevention, Exploiting the electromagnetic spectrum, and Cognitive Systems.

The recently released flood report (in PDF) is exceedingly well done. It considers both climate and socioeconomic factors as drivers of future flood risk, it discusses significant and irreducible uncertainties, it considers mitigation and adaptation responses as complements, and it presents a wide range of policy responses without seeking to advocate a favored few. In short, it is perhaps the best example of a climate assessment that I’ve seen.

A few excerpts from the flood report’s executive summary:

“Ultimately it is our decisions that will determine whether we are successful.” P. 38

“The extreme uncertainty of the future is a major challenge in devising effective long-term flood-management policies. It is important to decide how much flexibility is required to cope with an evolving future, and to choose a portfolio of responses to achieve that. In this respect, reversible and adaptable measures would be the most robust against future uncertainties.” (p. 43)

And from its Key Messages for Researchers,

“Reductions in global greenhouse-gas emissions would reduce the risks substantially, however, this is unlikely to be sufficient in itself. Hard decisions need to be taken – we must either invest more in sustainable approaches to flood and coastal management or learn to live with increased flooding.”

All assessments of climate science and policy should be as well done as this one.

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