At their core, societal decisions about climate policy—whether emissions reductions, adaptation to climate changes, or the implementation of geoengineering—hinge on collective judgments about the extent to which adverse effects to human welfare and ecosystem services will result from changes associated with anthropogenic release of greenhouse gases and the costs associated with the emissions reductions or adaptation activities. In this article, we discuss how risk is understood in the context of climate change, which presents particularly confounding, long-term, and pervasive threats to society and ecosystems. We review theoretical approaches to risk as applied to climate change and policy responses to climate change, focusing especially on the perspectives of individuals, governments, and firms with respect to traditional decision analysis frameworks. We also evaluate the peculiar role of uncertainty in climate debates and how it affects decision making; the origins and nature of the various uncertainties; and how uncertainty is represented, framed, and, at times, wielded by scientists, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the media, politicians, and others. We conclude by assessing the limitations of and appropriate venues for risk analysis in climate decision making.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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