Dangerous climate change: The role for risk research

Irene Lorenzoni, Nick F. Pidgeon, Robert E. O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

118 Citations (Scopus)


The notion of "dangerous climate change$ constitutes an important development of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It persists, however, as an ambiguous expression, sustained by multiple definitions of danger. It also implicitly contains the question of how to respond to the complex and multi-disciplinary risk issues that climate change poses. The invaluable role of the climate science community, which relies on risk assessments to characterize system uncertainties and to identify limits beyond which changes may become dangerous, is acknowledged. But this alone will not suffice to develop long-term policy. Decisions need to include other considerations, such as value judgments about potential risks, and societal and individual perceptions of "danger," which are often contested. This article explores links and cross-overs between the climate science and risk communication and perception approaches to defining danger. Drawing upon nine articles in this Special Issue of Risk Analysis, we examine a set of themes: limits of current scientific understanding; differentiated public perceptions of danger from climate change; social and cultural processes amplifying and attenuating perceptions of, and responses to, climate change; risk communication design; and new approaches to climate change decision making. The article reflects upon some of the difficulties inherent in responding to the issue in a coherent, interdisciplinary fashion, concluding nevertheless that action should be taken, while acknowledging the context-specificity of "danger." The need for new policy tools is emphasised, while research on nested solutions should be aimed at overcoming the disjunctures apparent in interpretations of climate change risks.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1387-1398
Number of pages12
JournalRisk Analysis
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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