Working Group III: Mitigation

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2.4 Global Futures Scenarios 2.4.1 The Role of Global Futures Scenarios

In contrast to the GHG emission scenarios discussed in sections 2.3 and 2.5 of this chapter, “global futures” scenarios do not specifically or uniquely consider GHG emissions. Instead, they are more general “stories” of possible future worlds. Global futures scenarios can complement the more quantitative emission scenario assessments, because they consider several dimensions that elude quantification, such as governance, social structures, and institutions, but which are nonetheless important to the success of mitigation (and adaptation) policies and, more generally, describe the nature of the future world.

In this assessment, the global futures scenario literature was reviewed to achieve three objectives. First, it was consulted in order to determine the range of possible future worlds that have been identified by futurists. This aids climate change policy analysis by providing a range of potential futures against which the robustness of policy instruments may be assessed.

Second, global futures scenarios were analyzed to determine whether they displayed any relationships between the various scenario dimensions and GHG emissions. Although these relationships are often based entirely on qualitative analysis, they might nonetheless yield insights about the relationships between some dimensions, especially those that are difficult to quantify, and emissions.

Third, global futures scenarios may provide a link between the more quantitative emission scenarios and sustainable development issues. Global futures scenarios generally provide good coverage of sustainable development issues, while the quantitative emission scenarios generally provide only limited coverage of these issues. Linking the global futures scenarios with the quantitative emission scenarios therefore might also provide a link between the latter and sustainable development issues.

2.4.2 Global Futures Scenario Database

An extensive review of the futures literature was conducted and, from this review, a database of scenarios was constructed. This database contains 124 scenarios from 48 sources.10 Scenarios were selected which were global11, long-term, and multidimensional in scope. The scenarios consider timelines that run from the base year to anywhere between 2010 and 2100. Most scenarios are detailed and comprehensive depictions of possible future worlds, with descriptions of the social, economic, and environmental characteristics of these worlds. Others are less detailed but still describe more than one characteristic of the future world. Some scenarios are derived from the authors’ judgement about most likely future conditions. Others are part of sets of possible futures, usually posited as alternatives to a reference case. Still others are normative scenarios, in that they describe the authors’ visions of desirable future worlds.

In general, the global futures scenarios provide few quantified projections, although there are some notable exceptions such as CPB (1992), Meadows et al. (1992), Duchin et al. (1996), Gallopin et al. (1997), OECD (1997), Rotmans and de Vries (1997), Glenn and Gordon (1998), Nakicenovic et al. (1998), and Raskin et al. (1998). Several scenarios explicitly consider energy use, GHG emissions, and/or future climate change, but not all of these provide numerical estimates of the relevant variables. These quantified scenarios are different from the scenarios in the previous section since they present quantifications of primarily narrative scenarios. The basis of the scenarios in the previous section is a purely quantitative analysis of emissions profiles without narrative description.

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