IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

3.1.2 Introduction to mitigation and stabilization scenarios

Climate change intervention, control, or mitigation scenarios capture measures and policies for reducing GHG emissions with respect to some baseline (or reference) scenario. They contain emission profiles, as well as costs associated with the emissions reduction, but often do not quantify the benefits of reduced impacts from climate change. Stabilization scenarios are mitigation scenarios that aim at a pre-specified GHG reduction pathway, leading to stabilization of GHG concentrations in the atmosphere.

For the purposes of this chapter, a scenario is identified as a mitigation or intervention scenario if it meets one of the following two conditions:

  • It incorporates specific climate change targets, which may include absolute or relative GHG limits, GHG concentration levels (e.g. CO2 or CO2-equivalent (CO2-eq) stabilization scenarios), or maximum allowable changes in temperature or sea level.
  • It includes explicit or implicit policies and/or measures of which the primary goal is to reduce CO2 or a broader range of GHG emissions (e.g. a carbon tax, carbon cap or a policy encouraging the use of renewable energy).

Some scenarios in the literature are difficult to classify as mitigation (intervention) or baseline (reference or non-intervention), such as those developed to assess sustainable development (SD) paths. These studies consider futures that require radical policy and behavioural changes to achieve a transition to a postulated sustainable development pathway. Greenpeace formulated one of the first such scenarios (Lazarus et al., 1993). Many sustainable development scenarios are also included in this assessment. Where they do not include explicit policies, as in the case of SRES scenarios, they can be classified as baseline or non-intervention scenarios. For example, the SRES B1 family of reference scenarios can be characterized as having many elements of a sustainability transition that lead to generally low GHG emissions, even though the scenarios do not include policies or measures explicitly directed at emissions mitigation.

Another type of mitigation (intervention or climate policy) scenario approach specifies future ‘worlds’ that are internally consistent with some specified climate target (e.g. a global temperature increase of no more than 1°C by 2100), and then works backwards to develop feasible emission trajectories and emission driver combinations leading to these targets. Such scenarios, also referred to as ‘safe landing’ or ‘tolerable window’ scenarios, imply the necessary development and implementation of climate policies intended to achieve these targets in the most efficient way (Morita et al., 2001). A number of such new multi-gas stabilization scenarios are assessed in this chapter.

Confusion can arise when the inclusion of ‘non-climate-related’ policies in a reference (non-intervention) scenario has the effect of significantly reducing GHG emissions. For example, energy efficiency or land-use policies that reduce GHG emissions may be adopted for reasons that are not related to climate policies and may therefore be included in a non-intervention scenario. Such a scenario may include GHG emissions that are lower than some intervention scenarios. The root cause of this potential confusion is that, in practice, many policies can both reduce GHG emissions and achieve other goals (so-called multiple benefits). Whether such policies are assumed to be adopted for climate or non-climate policy-related reasons is determined by the scenario developer, based on the underlying scenario narrative. While this is a problem in terms of making a clear distinction between intervention and non-intervention scenarios, it is at the same time an opportunity. Because many decisions are not made for reasons of climate change alone, measures implemented for reasons other than climate change can have a significant impact on GHG emissions, opening up many new possibilities for mitigation (Morita et al., 2001).