Written by Nereus Research Associate Colette Wabnitz and Fellow Tyler Eddy,

The Scenarios Forum hosted researchers from 41 countries across diverse disciplines who are using and developing scenarios related to climate change and sustainability. The international body of scientists responsible for providing the state-of-the-art scientific understanding of climate change impacts to policy makers – known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – employs a standardized ‘scenarios framework’ to support integrated climate change and sustainability research. The framework consists of climate emissions scenarios – known as representative concentration pathways (RCPs) – as well as standardized socioeconomic scenarios – known as shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs). The five current SSPs span a range of possible futures along two axes: one of challenges to adaption and the other focusing on challenges to mitigation. The scenarios that result include a more sustainable, inclusive world (SSP1) through to a more fragmented, competitive world focused on domestic issues (SSP3).

The meeting broadly highlighted that while emphasis to date has been placed on possible futures based on biophysical changes, projected shifts will be strongly driven by societal pathways, with a need to better account for uncertainties in socioeconomic modelling.

Such an understanding would support more robust risk assessments, targeted poverty and vulnerability reduction, as well as effective adaptation assistance. The forum provided the opportunity to showcase a truly broad range of SSP applications, including: global analyses and detailed national level applications (e.g. New Zealand); links between SDGs and SSPs and how the trade-off landscape among Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) evolves depending on the SSP used; the potential impact on biodiversity conservation from different SSPs; the critical role of urbanization and education on possible futures; how to effectively communicate research around the SSPs; and how scenarios provide a critical dimension for preparedness in the military.

The session titled “Scenarios for the Future Ocean” focused on how SSP qualitative story lines can be translated into numbers that can be used in models to make projections about the impacts of climate change on society and the natural world. While the marine environment was glaringly missing from most of the Forum’s presentations, this session highlighted work by a small but growing community interested in contextualizing the SSPs to ocean related activities. The session further underscored the need to explicitly include the marine dimension in assessments of global nutrition security for instance, as well as efforts to support future transformation and resilience.

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