Climate services for whom? The political economics of contextualizing climate data in Louisiana’s coastal Master Plan

Abstract

Adaptation planning includes contextualizing global and regional climate data within specific decision-making processes. As such, planners are increasingly interested in climate services. Climate services involve the expert production of forecasts, scenarios, economic analyses, and other data products to help users meaningfully address local changes and variabilities. For instance, in the US state of Louisiana, modelers tailor 50-year storm, precipitation, and sea level rise predictions to help planners select adaptive ecological restoration projects. Modelers do so by downscaling the data, combining it with other social and biophysical information, and framing results in terms of stakeholder interests. In this paper, I question what it means to develop adaptation information that is geared towards specific users and stakeholders. Given the growing recognition that adaptation planning can prove maladaptive, I ask, when do climate services actually exacerbate existing vulnerabilities? To answer, I draw on three cases from Louisiana’s coastal Master Plan and highlight political economic factors informing climate services: influential stakeholders, funding dynamics, the framing of planning decisions, and differential harms and benefits. I argue that when climate data is made relevant to existing interests, budgets, and plans, it can reproduce vulnerabilities and foreclose transformative adaptation. However, marginalized stakeholders can also pressure experts to contextualize data in ways that mitigate vulnerabilities. I conclude that climate services research and practice should expand user-centered approaches by asking climate services for whom and by assessing the winners and losers from climate variability, change, and adaptation actions themselves.

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Acknowledgements

This paper has benefited from feedback provided by Nicolle Etchart, Daniel Grant, Chris Knudson, Morgan Robertson, Sophie Webber, and three anonymous reviewers. All views and errors remain my own.

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Correspondence to Eric Nost.

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This article is part of a Special Issue on “Putting Climate Services in Contexts: Advancing Multi-disciplinary Understandings” edited by Sophie Webber.

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Nost, E. Climate services for whom? The political economics of contextualizing climate data in Louisiana’s coastal Master Plan. Climatic Change 157, 27–42 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-019-02383-z

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