Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Climate services promise better decisions but mainly focus on better data


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.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

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.


  1. 1.

    Hewitt, C., Mason, S. & Walland, D. The global framework for climate services. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 831–832 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Brasseur, G. P. & Gallardo, L. Climate services: lessons learned and future prospects. Earth’s Future 4, 79–89 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Lemos, M. C., Kirchhoff, C. J. & Ramprasad, V. Narrowing the climate information usability gap. Nat. Clim. Change 2, 789–794 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Prokopy, L. S. et al. Useful to usable: developing usable climate science for agriculture. Clim. Risk Manag. 15, 1–7 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Wall, T. U., Meadow, A. M. & Horganic, A. Developing evaluation indicators to improve the process of coproducing usable climate science. Weather Clim. Soc. 9, 95–107 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Dilling, L. & Lemos, M. C. Creating usable science: opportunities and constraints for climate knowledge use and their implications for science policy. Glob. Environ. Change 21, 680–689 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Tang, S. & Dessai, S. Usable science? The U.K. Climate Projections 2009 and decision support for adaptation planning. Weather Clim. Soc. 4, 300–313 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    McNie, E. C. Delivering climate services: organizational strategies and approaches for producing useful climate-science information. Weather Clim. Soc. 5, 14–26 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Bruno Soares, M., Daly, M. & Dessai, S. Assessing the value of seasonal climate forecasts for decision-making. Wiley Interdiscp. Rev. Clim. Change 9, e523 (2018).

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Nissan, H. et al. On the use and misuse of climate change projections in international development. Wiley Interdiscp. Rev. Clim. Change 10, e579 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Dutton, J. A. Opportunities and priorities in a new era for weather and climate services. Bull. Am. Meteor. Soc. 83, 1303–1312 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Miles, E. L. et al. An approach to designing a national climate service. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 103, 19616–19623 (2006).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Hansen, J. W., Zebiak, S. & Coffey, K. Shaping global agendas on climate risk management and climate services: an IRI perspective. Earth Perspect. 1, 13 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Hewitt, C. D., Stone, R. C. & Tait, A. B. Improving the use of climate information in decision-making. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 614–616 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Hewitt, C. D. et al. Making society climate resilient: international progress under the global framework for climate services. Bull. Am. Meteor. Soc. 101, E237–E252 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Lourenço, T. C., Swart, R., Goosen, H. & Street, R. The rise of demand-driven climate services. Nat. Clim. Change 6, 13–14 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Vaughan, C. & Dessai, S. Climate services for society: origins, institutional arrangements, and design elements for an evaluation framework. Wiley Interdiscp. Rev. Clim. Change 5, 587–603 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Weichselgartner, J. & Arheimer, B. Evolving climate services into knowledge–action systems. Weather Clim. Soc. 11, 385–399 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Bruno Soares, M. & Buontempo, C. Challenges to the sustainability of climate services in Europe. Wiley Interdiscp. Rev. Clim. Change 10, 190 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Daniels, E., Bharwani, S., Swartling, Å. G., Vulturius, G. & Brandon, K. Refocusing the climate services lens: introducing a framework for co-designing ‘transdisciplinary knowledge integration processes’ to build climate resilience. Clim. Serv. 19, 100181 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Harjanne, A. Servitizing climate science—institutional analysis of climate services discourse and its implications. Glob. Environ. Change 46, 1–16 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Kalafatis, S. E., Whyte, K. P., Libarkin, J. C. & Caldwell, C. Ensuring climate services serve society: examining tribes’ collaborations with climate scientists using a capability approach. Clim. Change 157, 115–131 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Vogel, C., Steynor, A. & Manyuchi, A. Climate services in Africa: re-imagining an inclusive, robust and sustainable service. Clim. Serv. 15, 100107 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Vincent, K., Daly, M., Scannell, C. & Leathes, B. What can climate services learn from theory and practice of co-production? Clim. Serv. 12, 48–58 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Vaughan, C., Dessai, S. & Hewitt, C. Surveying climate services: what can we learn from a bird’s-eye view? Weather Clim. Soc. 10, 373–395 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Dinku, T. The need for national centres for climate and development in Africa. Clim. Dev. 2, 9–13 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Webber, S. Circulating climate services: commercializing science for climate change adaptation in Pacific Islands. Geoforum 85, 82–91 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Pulwarty, R. S., Simpson, C. & Nierenberg, C. in Integrated Regional Assessment of Global Climate Change (eds Knight, C. G. & Jäger, J.) 367–393 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009).

  29. 29.

    Meadow, A. M. et al. Moving toward the deliberate coproduction of climate science knowledge. Weather Clim. Soc. 7, 179–191 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Fisher, S., Dodman, D., Van Epp, M. & Garside, B. The usability of climate information in sub-national planning in India, Kenya and Uganda: the role of social learning and intermediary organisations. Clim. Change 151, 219–245 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Daly, M. & Dilling, L. The politics of ‘usable’ knowledge: examining the development of climate services in Tanzania. Clim. Change 157, 61–80 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Carr, E. R., Goble, R., Rosko, H. M., Vaughan, C. & Hansen, J. Identifying climate information services users and their needs in Sub-Saharan Africa: a review and learning agenda. Clim. Dev. 12, 23–41 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Porter, J. J. & Dessai, S. Mini-me: why do climate scientists’ misunderstand users and their needs? Environ. Sci. Policy 77, 9–14 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Daly, M. & Dessai, S. Examining the goals of the regional climate outlook forums: what role for user engagement? Weather Clim. Soc. 10, 693–708 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Lemos, M. C., Finan, T. J., Fox, R. W., Nelson, D. R. & Tucker, J. The use of seasonal climate forecasting in policymaking: lessons from Northeast Brazil. Clim. Change 55, 479–507 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Findlater, K. M., Donner, S. D., Satterfield, T. & Kandlikar, M. Integration anxiety: the cognitive isolation of climate change. Glob. Environ. Change 50, 178–189 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Findlater, K. M., Satterfield, T., Kandlikar, M. & Donner, S. D. Six languages for a risky climate: how farmers react to weather and climate change. Clim. Change 148, 451–465 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Findlater, K. M., Satterfield, T. & Kandlikar, M. Farmers’ risk-based decision making under pervasive uncertainty: cognitive thresholds and hazy hedging. Risk Anal. 39, 1755–1770 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Findlater, K. M., Kandlikar, M., Satterfield, T. & Donner, S. D. Weather and climate variability may be poor proxies for climate change in farmer risk perceptions. Weather Clim. Soc. 11, 697–711 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Gerlak, A. K. et al. Building a framework for process-oriented evaluation of regional climate outlook forums. Weather Clim. Soc. 10, 225–239 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Gerlak, A. K. et al. The gnat and the bull: do climate outlook forums make a difference? Bull. Am. Meteor. Soc. 101, E771–E784 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Vaughan, C., Muth, M. F. & Brown, D. P. Evaluation of regional climate services: learning from seasonal-scale examples across the Americas. Clim. Serv. 15, 100104 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Perrels, A. Quantifying the uptake of climate services at micro and macro level. Clim. Serv. 17, 100152 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Lemos, M. C. & Morehouse, B. J. The co-production of science and policy in integrated climate assessments. Glob. Environ. Change 15, 57–68 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Bessembinder, J. et al. Need for a common typology of climate services. Clim. Serv. 16, 100135 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Lahsen, M. & Turnhout, E. How norms, needs, and power in science obstruct transformations towards sustainability. Environ. Res. Lett. 16, 025008 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    O’Brien, K. Global environmental change II: from adaptation to deliberate transformation. Prog. Hum. Geogr. 36, 667–676 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    O’Brien, K. Global environmental change III: closing the gap between knowledge and action. Prog. Hum. Geogr. 37, 587–596 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Shove, E. Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change. Environ. Plan A 42, 1273–1285 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Klenk, N. & Meehan, K. Climate change and transdisciplinary science: problematizing the integration imperative. Environ. Sci. Policy 54, 160–167 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Atkinson, R. & Flint, J. in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Social Science Research Methods (eds Lewis-Beck, M. et al.) 1043–1044 (Sage Publications, 2004).

  52. 52.

    Larosa, F. & Mysiak, J. Mapping the landscape of climate services. Environ. Res. Lett. 14, 093006 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


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).

Author information




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.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Kieran Findlater.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

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.

Supplementary information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing