Improving the Use of Uncertain Climate Information in Decision-Making: A Behavioral Psychology Approach
Climate change information is often presented with a range of uncertainty about the extent of potential risks and the impacts of those risks. These uncertainties can become a barrier to the uptake and use of climate information to inform decisions, raising questions about people’s perception and planning in an environment of uncertainty, risk, and gaps in knowledge. Effective communication of climate science under uncertainty remains an ongoing challenge. Shortcomings of current approaches to climate change communication include the focus on uncertainty and the use of scientific language. Applying knowledge from other disciplines such as psychology, behavioral economics, risk analysis, and other fields may enhance/transform climate change communication, including “climate services.”
This report from the USAID-funded Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project examines the results of a study by the Climate System Analysis Group (CSAG) at the University of Cape Town that applied principles from behavioral psychology to explore decision-making with uncertain climate information and the utility of these principles for influencing decision-makers to use uncertain climate information. The report provides an overview of relevant literature, outlines the methodology and results of the study, and offers insights on how using co-learning methods can break through some of the communication barriers The report also provides recommendations on how to engage decision-makers on climate change issues by: (1) framing climate information in ways that are consistent with the principles for decision-making within a sector; (2) providing information that resonates with the backgrounds, characteristics, and real-world experiences of decision-makers; (3) targeting the experiential processing system through examples of climate impacts that are concrete, personalized, and vivid; and (4) acknowledging that information alone will be insufficient to change behavior.
This report is accompanied by a forthcoming policy brief summarizing the main findings, and a detailed literature review on psychological concepts that may inform decision-making processes under uncertainty.