IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

TS.3.2 Characterising the future in the Working Group II IPCC Fourth Assessment

CCIAV assessments usually require information on how conditions such as climate, social and economic development, and other environmental factors are expected to change in the future. This commonly entails the development of scenarios, storylines or other characterisations of the future, often disaggregated to the regional or local scale [2.4.1, 2.4.6].

Scenarios are plausible descriptions, without ascribed likelihoods, of possible future states of the world. Storylines are qualitative, internally consistent narratives of how the future may evolve, which often underpin quantitative projections of future change that, together with the storyline, constitute a scenario [B2.1]. The IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), published in 2000, provided scenarios of future greenhouse gas emissions accompanied by storylines of social, economic and technological development that can be used in CCIAV studies (Figure TS.2). Although there can be methodological problems in applying these scenarios (for example, in downscaling projections of population and gross domestic product (GDP) from the four SRES large world regions to national or sub-national scales), they nevertheless provide a coherent global quantification of socio-economic development, greenhouse gas emissions and climate, and represent some of the most comprehensive scenarios presently available to CCIAV researchers. A substantial number of the impact studies assessed in this volume that employed future characterisations made use of the SRES scenarios. For some other studies, especially empirical analyses of adaptation and vulnerability, the scenarios were of limited relevance and were not adopted [2.4.6].

Figure TS.2

Figure TS.2. Summary characteristics of the four SRES storylines [F2.5]   Errata

In the future, better integration of climate-related scenarios with those widely adopted by other international bodies (mainstreaming) is desirable, and enhanced information exchange between research and policy communities will greatly improve scenario usage and acceptance. Improved scenarios are required for poorly specified indicators such as future technology and adaptive capacity, and interactions between key drivers of change need to be better specified [2.5].