Climate Change 2001: Mitigation

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2.3 Global Futures Scenarios

Global futures scenarios do not specifically or uniquely consider GHG emissions. Instead, they are more general "stories" of possible future worlds. They can complement the more quantitative emissions scenario assessments, because they consider dimensions that elude quantification, such as governance and social structures and institutions, but which are nonetheless important to the success of mitigation policies. Addressing these issues reflects the different perspectives presented in Section 1: cost-effectiveness and/or efficiency, equity, and sustainability.

A survey of this literature has yielded a number of insights that are relevant to GHG emissions scenarios and sustainable development. First, a wide range of future conditions has been identified by futurists, ranging from variants of sustainable development to collapse of social, economic, and environmental systems. Since future values of the underlying socio-economic drivers of emissions may vary widely, it is important that climate policies should be designed so that they are resilient against widely different future conditions.

Second, the global futures scenarios that show falling GHG emissions tend to show improved governance, increased equity and political participation, reduced conflict, and improved environmental quality. They also tend to show increased energy efficiency, shifts to non-fossil energy sources, and/or shifts to a post-industrial (service-based) economy; population tends to stabilize at relatively low levels, in many cases thanks to increased prosperity, expanded provision of family planning, and improved rights and opportunities for women. A key implication is that sustainable development policies can make a significant contribution to emission reduction.

Third, different combinations of driving forces are consistent with low emissions scenarios, which agrees with the SRES findings. The implication of this seems to be that it is important to consider the linkage between climate policy and other policies and conditions associated with the choice of future paths in a general sense.

Figure TS.1: Qualitative directions of SRES scenarios for different indicators.

2.4 Special Report on Emissions Scenarios

Six new GHG emission reference scenario groups (not including specific climate policy initiatives), organized into 4 scenario "families", were developed by the IPCC and published as the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES). Scenario families A1 and A2 emphasize economic development but differ with respect to the degree of economic and social convergence; B1 and B2 emphasize sustainable development but also differ in terms of degree of convergence (see Box TS.1). In all, six models were used to generate the 40 scenarios that comprise the six scenario groups. Six of these scenarios, which should be considered equally sound, were chosen to illustrate the whole set of scenarios. These six scenarios include marker scenarios for each of the worlds as well as two scenarios, A1FI and A1T, which illustrate alternative energy technology developments in the A1 world (see Figure TS.1).

The SRES scenarios lead to the following findings:

  • Alternative combinations of driving-force variables can lead to similar levels and structure of energy use, land-use patterns, and emissions.
  • Important possibilities for further bifurcations in future development trends exist within each scenario family.
  • Emissions profiles are dynamic across the range of SRES scenarios. They portray trend reversals and indicate possible emissions cross-over among different scenarios.
  • Describing potential future developments involves inherent ambiguities and uncertainties. One and only one possible development path (as alluded to, for instance, in concepts such as "business-as-usual scenario") simply does not exist. The multi-model approach increases the value of the SRES scenario set, since uncertainties in the choice of model input assumptions can be more explicitly separated from the specific model behaviour and related modelling uncertainties.

Box TS.1. The Emissions Scenarios of the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES)

A1. The A1 storyline and scenario family describe a future world of very rapid economic growth, global population that peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, and the rapid introduction of new and more efficient technologies. Major underlying themes are convergence among regions, capacity building, and increased cultural and social interactions, with a substantial reduction in regional differences in per capita income. The A1 scenario family develops into three groups that describe alternative directions of technological change in the energy system. The three A1 groups are distinguished by their technological emphasis: fossil intensive (A1FI), non-fossil energy sources (A1T), or a balance across all sources (A1B) (where balanced is defined as not relying too heavily on one particular energy source, on the assumption that similar improvement rates apply to all energy supply and end-use technologies).

A2. The A2 storyline and scenario family describe a very heterogeneous world. The underlying theme is self-reliance and preservation of local identities. Fertility patterns across regions converge very slowly, which results in a continuously increasing population. Economic development is primarily regionally oriented and per capita economic growth and technological change more fragmented and slower than in other storylines.

B1. The B1 storyline and scenario family describe a convergent world with the same global population, which peaks in mid-century and declines thereafter, as in the A1 storyline, but with rapid change in economic structures towards a service and information economy, with reductions in material intensity and the introduction of clean and resource-efficient technologies. The emphasis is on global solutions to economic, social, and environmental sustainability, including improved equity, but without additional climate initiatives.

B2. The B2 storyline and scenario family describe a world in which the emphasis is on local solutions to economic, social, and environmental sustainability. It is a world with continuously increasing global population, at a rate lower than in A2, intermediate levels of economic development, and less rapid and more diverse technological change than in the B1 and A1 storylines. While the scenario is also oriented towards environmental protection and social equity, it focuses on local and regional levels.

An illustrative scenario was chosen for each of the six scenario groups A1B, A1FI, A1T, A2, B1, and B2. All should be considered equally sound.

The SRES scenarios do not include additional climate initiatives, which means that no scenarios are included that explicitly assume implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or the emissions targets of the Kyoto Protocol.

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