Scenarios That Illuminate Vulnerabilities and Robust Responses

Published in: Climate Change, v. 177, no. 4, Apr. 2013, p. 627-646

Posted on RAND.org on April 01, 2013

by Robert J. Lempert

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Scenarios exist so that decision makers and those who provide them with information can make statements about the future that claim less confidence than do predictions, projections, and forecasts. Despite their prevalence, fundamental questions remain about how scenarios should best be developed and used. This paper proposes a particular conceptualization of scenarios that aims to address many of the challenges faced when using scenarios to inform contentious policy debates. The concept envisions scenarios as illuminating the vulnerabilities of proposed policies, that is, as concise summaries of the future states of the world in which a proposed policy would fail to meet its goals. Such scenarios emerge from a decision support process that begins with a proposed policy, seeks to understand the conditions under which it would fail, and then uses this information to identify and evaluate potential alternative policies that are robust over a wide range of future conditions. Statistical cluster analyses applied to databases of simulation model results can help identify scenarios as part of this process. Drawing on themes from the decision support literature, this paper first reviews difficulties faced when using scenarios to inform climate-related decisions, describes the proposed approach to address these challenges, illustrates the approach with applications for three different types of users, and concludes with some thoughts on implications for the provision of climate information and for future scenario processes.

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