Emissions Scenarios

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Why new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenarios?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) developed long-term emission scenarios in 1990 and 1992. These scenarios have been widely used in the analysis of possible climate change, its impacts, and options to mitigate climate change. In 1995, the IPCC 1992 scenarios were evaluated. The evaluation recommended that significant changes (since 1992) in the understanding of driving forces of emissions and methodologies should be addressed. These changes in understanding relate to, e.g., the carbon intensity of energy supply, the income gap between developed and developing countries, and to sulfur emissions. This led to a decision by the IPCC Plenary in 1996 to develop a new set of scenarios. The new set of scenarios is presented in this report.

What are scenarios and what is their purpose?

Future greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are the product of very complex dynamic systems, determined by driving forces such as demographic development, socio-economic development, and technological change. Their future evolution is highly uncertain. Scenarios are alternative images of how the future might unfold and are an appropriate tool with which to analyze how driving forces may influence future emission outcomes and to assess the associated uncertainties. They assist in climate change analysis, including climate modeling and the assessment of impacts, adaptation, and mitigation. The possibility that any single emissions path will occur as described in scenarios is highly uncertain.

What are the main characteristics of the new scenarios?

A set of scenarios was developed to represent the range of driving forces and emissions in the scenario literature so as to reflect current understanding and knowledge about underlying uncertainties. They exclude only outlying "surprise" or "disaster" scenarios in the literature. Any scenario necessarily includes subjective elements and is open to various interpretations. Preferences for the scenarios presented here vary among users. No judgment is offered in this report as to the preference for any of the scenarios and they are not assigned probabilities of occurrence, neither must they be interpreted as policy recommendations.

The scenarios are based on an extensive assessment of driving forces and emissions in the scenario literature, alternative modeling approaches, and an "open process"1 that solicited wide participation and feedback. These are all-important elements of the Terms of Reference (see Appendix I).

Four different narrative storylines were developed to describe consistently the relationships between emission driving forces and their evolution and add context for the scenario quantification. Each storyline represents different demographic, social, economic, technological, and environmental developments, which may be viewed positively by some people and negatively by others.

The scenarios cover a wide range of the main demographic, economic, and technological driving forces of GHG and sulphur emissions 2 and are representative of the literature. Each scenario represents a specific quantitative interpretation of one of four storylines. All the scenarios based on the same storyline constitute a scenario "family".

As required by the Terms of Reference, the scenarios in this report do not include additional climate initiatives, which means that no scenarios are included that explicitly assume implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) or the emissions targets of the Kyoto Protocol. However, GHG emissions are directly affected by non-climate change policies designed for a wide range of other purposes. Furthermore government policies can, to varying degrees, influence the GHG emission drivers such as demographic change, social and economic development, technological change, resource use, and pollution management. This influence is broadly reflected in the storylines and resultant scenarios.

For each storyline several different scenarios were developed using different modeling approaches to examine the range of outcomes arising from a range of models that use similar assumptions about driving forces. Six models were used which are representative of integrated assessment frameworks in the literature. One advantage of a multi-model approach is that the resultant 40 SRES scenarios together encompass the current range of uncertainties of future GHG emissions arising from different characteristics of these models, in addition to the current knowledge of and uncertainties that arise from scenario driving forces such as demographic, social and economic, and broad technological developments that drive the models, as described in the storylines. Thirteen of these 40 scenarios explore variations in energy technology assumptions.

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