The Need for and Use of Socio-Economic Scenarios for Climate Change Analysis

A New Approach Based on Shared Socio-Economic Pathway

Published in: Global Environment Change, v. 22, no. 4, Oct. 2012, p. 807-822

Posted on RAND.org on October 01, 2012

by Elmar Kriegler, Brian C. O'Neill, Stephane Hallegatte, Tom Kram, Robert J. Lempert, Richard H. Moss, Thomas Wilbanks

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Socio-economic scenarios constitute an important tool for exploring the long-term consequences of anthropogenic climate change and available response options. A more consistent use of socio-economic scenarios that would allow an integrated perspective on mitigation, adaptation and residual climate impacts remains a major challenge. We assert that the identification of a set of global narratives and socio-economic pathways offering scalability to different regional contexts, a reasonable coverage of key socio-economic dimensions and relevant futures, and a sophisticated approach to separating climate policy from counter-factual "no policy" scenarios would be an important step toward meeting this challenge. To this end, we introduce the concept of "shared socio-economic (reference) pathways". Sufficient coverage of the relevant socio-economic dimensions may be achieved by locating the pathways along the dimensions of challenges to mitigation and to adaptation. The pathways should be specified in an iterative manner and with close collaboration between integrated assessment modelers and impact, adaptation and vulnerability researchers to assure coverage of key dimensions, sufficient scalability and widespread adoption. They can be used not only as inputs to analyses, but also to collect the results of different climate change analyses in a matrix defined by two dimensions: climate exposure as characterized by a radiative forcing or temperature level and socio-economic development as classified by the pathways. For some applications, socio-economic pathways may have to be augmented by "shared climate policy assumptions" capturing global components of climate policies that some studies may require as inputs. We conclude that the development of shared socio-economic (reference) pathways, and integrated socio-economic scenarios more broadly, is a useful focal point for collaborative efforts between integrated assessment and impact, adaptation and vulnerability researchers.

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