Federal Coordinating Lead Authors:
Leah Nichols, National Science Foundation
Robert Vallario, U.S. Department of Energy
Chapter Lead:
Leon Clarke, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Chapter Authors:
Mohamad Hejazi, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Jill Horing, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Anthony C. Janetos, Boston University
Katharine Mach, Stanford University
Michael Mastrandrea, Carnegie Institution for Science
Marilee Orr, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Benjamin L. Preston, Rand Corporation
Patrick Reed, Cornell University
Ronald D. Sands, U.S. Department of Agriculture
Dave D. White, Arizona State University
Review Editor:
Kai Lee, Williams College (Emeritus) and the Packard Foundation (Retired)
USGCRP Coordinators:
Kristin Lewis, Senior Scientist
Natalie Bennett, Adaptation and Assessment Analyst

Sector Interactions, Multiple Stressors, and Complex Systems

The world we live in is a web of natural, built, and social systems—from global and regional climate; to the electric grid; to water management systems such as dams, rivers, and canals; to managed and unmanaged forests; and to financial and economic systems. Climate affects many of these systems individually, but they also affect one another, and often in ways that are hard to predict. In addition, while climate-related risks such as heat waves, floods, and droughts have an important influence on these interconnected systems, these systems are also subject to a range of other factors, such as population growth, economic forces, technological change, and deteriorating infrastructure.

A key factor in assessing risk in this context is that it is hard to quantify and predict all the ways in which climate-related stressors might lead to severe or widespread consequences for natural, built, and social systems. A multisector perspective can help identify such critical risks ahead of time, but uncertainties will always remain regarding exactly how consequences will materialize in the future. Therefore, effectively assessing multisector risks requires different tools and approaches than would be applied to understand a single sector by itself.

In interacting systems, management responses within one system influence how other systems respond. Failure to anticipate interdependencies can lead to missed opportunities for managing the risks of climate change; it can also lead to management responses that increase risks to other parts of the system. Despite the challenge of managing system interactions, there are opportunities to learn from experience to guide future risk management decisions.

There is a large gap in the multisector and multiscale tools and frameworks that are available to describe how different human systems interact with one another and with the earth system, and how those interactions affect the total system response to the many stressors they are subject to, including climate-related stressors. Characterizing the nature of such interactions and building the capacity to model them are important research challenges.


Complex Sectoral Interactions

Sectors are interacting and interdependent through physical, social, institutional, environmental, and economic linkages. These sectors and the interactions among them are affected by a range of climate-related and non-climate influences. From Figure 17.1 (Sources: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Arizona State University, and Cornell University).

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