How normative interpretations of climate risk assessment affect local decision-making: an exploratory study at the city scale in Cork, Ireland


Urban areas already suffer substantial losses in both economic and human terms from climate-related disasters. These losses are anticipated to grow substantially, in part as a result of the impacts of climate change. In this paper, we investigate the process of translating climate risk data into action for the city level. We apply a commonly used decision-framework as our backdrop and explore where in this process climate risk assessment and normative political judgements intersect. We use the case of flood risk management in Cork city in Ireland to investigate what is needed for translating risk assessment into action at the local city level. Evidence presented is based on focus group discussions at two stakeholder workshops, and a series of individual meetings and phone-discussions with stakeholders involved in local decision-making related to flood risk management and adaptation to climate change, in Ireland. Respondents were chosen on the basis of their expertise or involvement in the decision-making processes locally and nationally. Representatives of groups affected by flood risk and flood risk management and climate adaptation efforts were also included. The Cork example highlights that, despite ever more accurate data and an increasing range of theoretical approaches available to local decision-makers, it is the normative interpretation of this information that determines what action is taken. The use of risk assessments for decision-making is a process that requires normative decisions, such as setting ‘acceptable risk levels’ and identifying ‘adequate’ protection levels, which will not succeed without broader buy-in and stakeholder participation. Identifying and embracing those normative views up-front could strengthen the urban adaptation process—this may, in fact, turn out to be the biggest advantage of climate risk assessment: it offers an opportunity to create a shared understanding of the problem and enables an informed evaluation and discussion of remedial action.

Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 2018 376 20170300; DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2017.0300. 2018.