Discussion: Climate-related decision support systems

The vulnerability of island populations is not only influenced by geophysical parameters such as sea level rise, erosion and extreme events, but is also influenced by decisions and actions by people and institutions living within or managing the coastal zone. Since many decision makers are experiencing or anticipating a new climate regime and are asking questions about potential responses, in 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked the National Academies to undertake a study to provide a framework and a set of strategies and methods for organizing and evaluating decision support activities related to climate change. In response to this request, the Panel on Strategies and Methods for Climate-Related Decision Support examined basic knowledge of decision making; past experiences in other fields, such as hazard response, public health, and natural resource management; experience with early efforts in the climate arena; and input from a range of decision makers (National Research Council 2009). A number of their findings are relevant to informing decisions in island states such as Puerto Rico.

The Panel found that Climate-Related or Climate-Sensitive Decisions are choices by individuals or organizations, the results of which can be expected to affect climate change or to be affected by climate change and its interactions with ecological, economic and social systems. Notably, the Panel stressed that decisions are climate sensitive regardless of whether or not decision makers recognize them as such at the time of decision making. In other words, decision makers make climate-related or climate-sensitive decisions all the time and may not realize it. Decision support can potentially help all climate-affected decision makers get better results, but a decision maker who does not yet realize that their decisions are sensitive to climate will not perceive a need for such support.