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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - IRI THESys

The epistemic, ethical, and political dimensions of uncertainty in integrated assessment modeling

Marisa Beck was a visiting researcher at IRI THESys from September 2014 to December 2015 working in the research group "Transformations and uncertainties of land-water systems", led by Prof. Tobias Krüger.

Integrated assessment models (IAMs) of global climate change that combine representations of the economic and the climate system have become important tools to support policymakers in their responses to climate change. Yet, IAMs are built in the face of pervasive uncertainty, both scientific and ethical, which requires modelers to make numerous choices in model development. These modeling choices have epistemic, ethical, and political dimensions. First, modeling choices determine how well our current (lack of ) knowledge about the elements and processes of the modeled system is represented. Second, modeling choices have ethical implications, for example, the choice of a social discount rate, which is well documented. For other modeling choices, the ethical assumptions and implications are more subtle. Third, climate-economic models are not produced and used in a political vacuum; they shape and are shaped by the social relations they are embedded in. We review findings from various literatures to unpack the complex intersection of science, ethics, and politics that IAMs are developed and used in. This leads us to suggest theoretical frameworks that may enable an integrated epistemic–ethical–political understanding of IAMs and increase transparency about all three dimensions of model uncertainties.

© 2016 The Authors. WIREs Climate Change published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Beck, M., Krueger, T.: The epistemic, ethical, and political dimensions of uncertainty in
integrated assessment modeling. WIREs Climate Change 2016, 7:627–645. doi: 10.1002/wcc.415

Research Group: Transformations and uncertainties of land-water systems

Marisa Beck



Marisa Beck, Doctoral Researcher
E-Mail: mbeck@balsillieschool.ca