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Scientists outline framework for new socioeconomic scenarios for exploring climate change impacts and responses

11/05/2010 - The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is facilitating the further development of socioeconomic scenarios, portraits of possible social and economic futures, by the scientific community. In a three-day workshop in Berlin that concluded on Wednesday, experts in climate change impacts, adaptation, vulnerabilities, and mitigation discussed strategies for increasing the policy relevance of studies that will be assessed in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) to be published in 2014.
Scientists outline framework for new socioeconomic scenarios for exploring climate change impacts and responses

The Workshop was hosted by the German Federal Government in Berlin. Credit: IPCC

“Socioeconomic scenarios, used as tools for exploring possible future worlds, are a key element in meeting the IPCC mandate to be policy relevant without being policy prescriptive,” says Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Co-Chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III “Mitigation of Climate Change”.

To be policy relevant, the IPCC assessments need to compare forward projections of today’s world to possible future worlds in which a range of adaptation and mitigation policies attempt to address climate change. “We also need to investigate imperfect future worlds, where, for example, stakeholders are slow to reach agreements or where policies take extra time to implement,” says Edenhofer. Exploring a broad range of policies is essential for the IPCC in order not to be policy prescriptive.

The development of the new socioeconomic scenarios, preliminarily called ‘Shared Socioeconomic Pathways’ (SSPs) complements the Representative Concentration Pathways; these are previously developed trajectories for future levels of greenhouse gases that are being explored in experiments by the climate modeling community.

“The SSPs enable researchers to conduct related studies across a broad range of topics,” says Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology in California and Co-Chair of Working Group II “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”. The research communities will continue to investigate the implications of various socioeconomic developments on the local, regional, or global scale for the impacts of climate change and the costs, risks, and benefits of a range of possible policies.

At the workshop, a number of major components of the socioeconomic scenarios were discussed. Among these are world population growth, economic development, and technological progress, as well as other factors like the status of the environment, the effectiveness of government institutions, and progress in alleviating poverty.

“This workshop illustrates the catalytic role of the IPCC by helping the scientific community identify important problems and opportunities, while giving free rein to the scientists to set their own agendas,” says Field.

Notes for Editors

The IPCC organizes Expert Meetings and Workshops to facilitate discussions of topics relevant to the assessment process and to receive early input from the scientific community. In order to enhance coordination across the Working Groups in the preparation of the IPCC Assessment and Special Reports, topics of a cross-cutting nature are of particular interest. Proposals for Expert Meetings and Workshops are approved of by the IPCC Plenary. The nomination process for the two kinds of events differs, as for Workshops governments nominate experts, while for Expert Meetings, attendees are nominated by the Working Group Co-Chairs.


Info on the meeting, background material

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