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Research article2020Peer reviewedOpen access

The role of beliefs, expectations and values in decision-making favoring climate change adaptation – implications for communications with European forest professionals

Blennow, Kristina; Persson, J.; Gonçalves, L. M. S.; Borys, A.; Dutcă, I.; Hynynen, J.; Janeczko, E.; Lyubenova, M.; Merganič, J.; Merganičová, K.; Peltoniemi, M.; Petr, M.; Reboredo, F.; Vacchiano, G.; Reyer, C. P. O.


Beliefs, expectations and values are often assumed to drive decisions about climate change adaptation. We tested hypotheses based on this assumption using survey responses from 508 European forest professionals in ten countries. We used the survey results to identify communication needs and the decision strategies at play, and to develop guidelines on adequate communications about climate change adaptation. We observed polarization in the positive and negative values associated with climate change impacts accepted by survey respondents. We identified a mechanism creating the polarization that we call the 'blocked belief' effect. We found that polarized values did not correlate with decisions about climate change adaptation. Strong belief in the local impacts of climate change on the forest was, however, a prerequisite of decision-making favoring adaptation. Decision-making in favor of adaptation to climate change also correlated with net values of expected specific impacts on the forest and generally increased with the absolute value of these in the absence of 'tipping point' behavior. Tipping point behavior occurs when adaptation is not pursued in spite of the strongly negative or positive net value of expected climate change impacts. We observed negative and positive tipping point behavior, mainly in SW Europe and N-NE Europe, respectively. In addition we found that advice on effective adaptation may inhibit adaptation when the receiver is aware of effective adaptation measures unless it is balanced with information explaining how climate change leads to negative impacts. Forest professionals with weak expectations of impacts require communications on climate change and its impacts on forests before any advice on adaptation measures can be effective. We develop evidence-based guidelines on communications using a new methodology which includes Bayesian machine learning modeling of the equivalent of an expected utility function for the adaptation decision problem.


decision-making; adaptation; climate change; value polarization; expectation; blocked belief effect; tipping point behavior

Published in

Environmental Research Letters
2020, Volume: 11, number: 11, article number: 114061