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Climate services promise better decisions but mainly focus on better data

Abstract

Climate services are intended to improve climate-sensitive decisions by making climate information ‘useful, useable and used’. Here, we analyse 27 expert interviews to evaluate whether this user-driven model of climate science has been successfully implemented in the public sector. We show that, although climate services promise better decision-making, they mainly focus on delivering better data. The norms and institutions of climate science produce three key tensions in operationalizing climate services: a focus on products rather than processes, services based on broad assumptions about demand rather than being demand-driven, and the narrow economic valuation of products rather than evaluation of improvements in decision-making. These tensions help explain why climate services often generate nominal changes in climate science where transformations are promised. Transformational change requires that climate services account for diverse social structures, behaviours and contexts. Integrating social science is no panacea for demand-driven climate services, but it is certainly a prerequisite.

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Fig. 1: Key tensions in climate service delivery.

Data availability

The interview data that support the findings of this study are not publicly available because they contain information that would compromise the research participants’ confidentiality and undermine the process of informed consent. The data supporting Table 1 can be found in the Supplementary Information.

Code availability

No custom algorithms or code were used in the collection or analysis of the data. The qualitative data were analysed in Nvivo 12 for Mac.

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Acknowledgements

We thank our participants for their time and attention. This work was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (insight grant no. 435-2018-0549).

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Contributions

K.F. designed the study, conducted the interviews, analysed the data and drafted the paper. All authors conceptualized, reviewed and revised the paper. S.D., M.K. and S.W. conceptualized the overarching project and acquired the funding.

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Correspondence to Kieran Findlater.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Meaghan Daly, Suraje Dessai, Catherine Vaughan and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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Findlater, K., Webber, S., Kandlikar, M. et al. Climate services promise better decisions but mainly focus on better data. Nat. Clim. Chang. 11, 731–737 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01125-3

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