• Scenarios of global greenhouse gas emissions have played a key role in climate change analysis for over twenty years. Currently, several research communities are organizing to undertake a new round of scenario development in the lead-up to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). To help inform this process, we assess a number of past efforts to develop and learn from sets of global greenhouse gas emissions scenarios. We conclude that while emissions scenario exercises have likely had substantial benefits for participating modeling teams and produced insights from individual models, learning from the exercises taken as a whole has been more limited.
  • A new approach to scenarios focused on environmental concerns, changes and challenges, i.e. so-called `environmental scenarios', is necessary if global environmental changes are to be more effectively appreciated and addressed through sustained and collaborative action.

    On the basis of a comparison of previous approaches to global environmental scenarios and a review of existing scenario typologies, we propose a new scenario typology to help guide scenario-based interventions. This typology makes explicit the types of and/or the approaches to knowledge (`the epistemologies') which underpin a scenario approach.

    Drawing on previous environmental scenario projects, we distinguish and describe two main types in this new typology: `problem-focused' and `actor-centric'. This leads in turn to our suggestion for a third type, which we call `RIMA'—`reflexive interventionist or multi-agent based'.

  • Scenarios are increasingly used to inform global-change debates, but their connection to decisions has been weak and indirect. This reflects the greater number and variety of potential users and scenario needs, relative to other decision domains where scenario use is more established. Global-change scenario needs include common elements, e.g., model-generated projections of emissions and climate change, needed by many users but in different ways and with different assumptions. For these common elements, the limited ability to engage diverse global-change users in scenario development requires extreme transparency in communicating underlying reasoning and assumptions, including probability judgments…. Despite predictable attacks, scenario-based reasoning is necessary for responsible global-change decisions because decision-relevant uncertainties cannot be specified scientifically.

  • "The construction of scenarios is a fundamentally social activity, yet social scientific perspectives have rarely been brought to bear on it. Indeed, there is a growing imbalance between the increasing technical sophistication of the modeling elements of scenarios and the continued simplicity of our understanding of the social origins, linkages, and implications of the narratives to which they are coupled. Drawing on conceptual and methodological tools from science and technology studies, sociology and political science, we offer an overview of what a social scientific analysis of scenarios might include. In particular, we explore both how scenarios intervene in social microscale and macroscale contexts and how aspects of such contexts are embedded in scenarios, often implicitly."

  • "Scenarios may be understood as products and/or processes. Viewing scenario exercises as productive tends to emphasize their tangibility: scenario products may acquire value unrelated to the processes of their creation. Viewing scenario exercises as procedural tends to emphasize their modes of formation: the process of constructing scenarios may have benefits irrespective of the value of ensuing products. These two framings yield different expectations about how one might evaluate the `success' or otherwise of scenario exercises. We illustrate three approaches to evaluating the success or otherwise of scenarios using the example of the series of national UK climate scenarios published between 1991 and 2002. These are: predictive success (has the future turned out as envisaged?), decision success (have `good' decisions subsequently been made?) and learning success (have scenarios proved engaging and enabled learning?)."

  • From a 2007 conference at Brown University. "Scenarios have become a standard tool in the portfolio of techniques that scientists and policy-makers use to envision and plan for the future…. [S]cenarios are a central component in both the international climate change and ecosystem assessment processes. Yet, despite their prevalence, systematic analysis of scenarios as scientific and social processes is in its beginning stages. Questions remain about the scientific credibility of scenarios, the relevance of scenario outputs to various user groups, and the most effective role of scenarios in future global environmental assessment processes.

    "The objective of the March 2007 workshop is to lay the groundwork for a multi-year research effort that brings new perspectives to bear on the practice and politics of scenarios in environmental governance."

  • Publications from the 2007 Watson Institute conference, "Global Environmental Futures: Interrogating the Practice and Politics of Scenarios."

  • "Scenarios have become a standard tool in the portfolio of techniques that scientists and policy-makers use to envision and plan for the future. Defined as plausible, challenging and relevant stories about how the future might unfold that integrate quantitative models with qualitative assessments of social and political trends, scenarios are a central component in assessment processes for a range of global issues, including climate change, biodiversity, agriculture, and energy. Yet, despite their prevalence, systematic analysis of scenarios is in its beginning stages. Fundamental questions remain about both the epistemology and scientific credibility of scenarios and their roles in policymaking and social change."

  • "The first American academic journal to examine design history, theory, and criticism, Design Issues provokes inquiry into the cultural and intellectual issues surrounding design."

  • Dr. Pulver is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She received her doctorate in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley and also holds an MA in Energy and Resources from UC Berkeley, as well as a BA in Physics from Princeton University. Pulver's principal areas of specialization are global environmental politics, organizational theory, and the sociology of development. More narrowly, her research focuses on the engagement of non-state actors, i.e. firms, non-governmental organizations and scientific experts, in climate change politics at international and national levels and in industrialized and developing-country settings.

  • "Scenarios are a powerful tool in the strategist’s armory. They are particularly useful in developing strategies to navigate the kinds of extreme events we have recently seen in the world economy. Scenarios enable the strategist to steer a course between the false certainty of a single forecast and the confused paralysis that often strike in troubled times. When well executed, scenarios boast a range of advantages—but they can also set traps for the unwary."

  • Three scenarios organized around the questions, "How can the world attain a high level of sustainable economic growth given the rapidly changing geopolitical landscape of the early 21st century?" and "What will the balance of power look like in 2025 and to what degree might collaborative policies and frameworks shape the global context?" BORROWED TIME posits continued economic growth at the expense of global cooperation and long-term stability; FRAGMENTED WORLD posits lower growth and "an overwhelmed international system collapsing under its own weight." CONSTANT RENEWAL imagines shocks forcing nations to cooperate on critical problems, and to support "economic growth and shared responsibilities." The most believable scenarios are the most pessimistic, unfortunately.

  • AR on the iPhone highlights "two problems: As it exists today—mainly in the form of iPhone apps—the technology doesn't work all that well. And the cool stuff it can do today is often a step down from just using conventional mapping and search applications."

  • "Experts often appear to perceive time differently from novices. The current study thus examined perceptions of time as a function of domain expertise. Specifically, individuals with high or low levels of knowledge of American football made judgements of duration for briefly presented words that were unrelated to football (e.g., rooster), football specific (e.g., touchdown), or ambiguous (e.g., huddle). Results showed that high-knowledge individuals judged football-specific words as having been presented for a longer duration than unrelated or ambiguous words. In contrast, low-knowledge participants exhibited no systematic differences in judgements of duration based on the type of word presented. These findings are discussed within a fluency attribution framework, which suggests that experts' fluent perception of domain-relevant stimuli leads to the subjective impression that time slows down in one's domain of expertise."