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CR 33:101-110 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/cr033101

Actionable climate knowledge: from analysis to synthesis

Holger Meinke1,7,*, Rohan Nelson2, Phil Kokic3, Roger Stone1,6, Ramasamy Selvaraju4, Walter Baethgen5

1Department of Primary Industries & Fisheries, PO Box 102, Toowoomba, Queensland 4350, Australia
2CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, GPO Box 284, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia
3Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE), GPO Box 1563, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia
4Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore 641 003, Tamil Nadu, India
5International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), Columbia University, PO Box 1000, Palisades, New York 10964-8000, USA
6University of Southern Queensland, Faculty of Sciences, Toowoomba, Queensland 4350, Australia
7Present address: Wageningen University, Department of Plant Sciences, Crop and Weed Ecology, PO Box 430, 6700 AK Wageningen, The Netherlands

ABSTRACT: The traditional reductionist approach to science has a tendency to create ‘islands of knowledge in a sea of ignorance’, with a much stronger focus on analysis of scientific inputs rather than synthesis of socially relevant outcomes. This might be the principal reason why intended end users of climate information generally fail to embrace what the climate science community has to offer. The translation of climate information into real-life action requires 3 essential components: salience (the perceived relevance of the information), credibility (the perceived technical quality of the information) and legitimacy (the perceived objectivity of the process by which the information is shared). We explore each of these components using 3 case studies focused on dryland cropping in Australia, India and Brazil. In regards to ‘salience’ we discuss the challenge for climate science to be ‘policy-relevant’, using Australian drought policy as an example. In a village in southern India ‘credibility’ was gained through engagement between scientists and risk managers with the aim of building social capital, achieved only at high cost to science institutions. Finally, in Brazil we found that ‘legitimacy’ is a fragile, yet renewable resource that needs to be part of the package for successful climate applications; legitimacy can be easily eroded but is difficult to recover. We conclude that climate risk management requires holistic solutions derived from cross-disciplinary and participatory, user-oriented research. Approaches that combine climate, agroecological and socioeconomic models provide the scientific capabilities for establishment of ‘borderless’ institutions without disciplinary constraints. Such institutions could provide the necessary support and flexibility to deliver the social benefits of climate science across diverse contexts. Our case studies show that this type of solution is already being applied, and suggest that the climate science community attempt to address existing institutional constraints, which still impede climate risk management.

KEY WORDS: Climate knowledge · Salience · Credibility · Legitimacy · Dryland cropping · Risk management · Modelling

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