Climate models: what they show us and how they can be used in planning

Climate modelling is a key tool in tackling the effects of climate change. A new guide from the Future Climate for Africa programmeClimate models: What they show us and how they can be used in planning – explains how countries can use climate models appropriately – and how to avoid some common pitfalls in interpretation.

Climate models use complex data methods to project as clear a view of the future climate as possible, but unfortunately, they are often misunderstood or used incorrectly. They are often wrongly seen as weather forecasts and the accuracy of their final data misconstrued. A greater understanding of the data is required to fully realise the potential of climate modelling as a tool in climate adaptation. This guide explains some of those failures in understanding and use, and explores how climate models can be used in planning.

Key messages:

  • The guide emphasises the fact that medium term planning can take into account, in conjunction with current knowledge of weather conditions and their regional variations, the effect of likely future conditions based on projections. In this hybrid approach, decision makers can create policy with a degree of accuracy and certainty.
  • The guide also explores why climate projection should be accompanied with two questions: according to which model and according to which scenario
  • It is important to understand that more confidence is added if projections from several models under the same scenario are used and that these robust climate projections are of greater quality than higher resolution projections. Counterintuitively, this means that a projection that provides a wider range of potential future temperatures is more likely to be accurate than one that provides a narrow range.

Members of the UMFULA and FRACTAL research teams contributed to this guide.