Breath of Clarity

Scenario-Based Planning

Original Post by Catherine Lwowski:

I don’t believe it would be “easier” to get an agreement after the results start showing up in different countries simply because adaptation measures can be costly, particularly in developing nations and high-risk natural disaster areas, when considered in conjunction with already degraded natural resources and/or severely damaged natural and human environments from climate-change related natural disasters that will occur in the meantime. The vital component in the difficulty in getting all countries to “agree” on a global CO2 treaty lie within the advancements made in science rather than the lack of it. Advances in the science and observation of climate change are providing a clearer understanding of the inherent variability of Earth’s climate system and its likely response to human and natural influences (Moss et al. 2010, 747). Scenario driven Earth and human responses, like those seen in the Paris Climate Agreement from research conducted in the IPCC report, leave much uncertainty, particularly in regard to different countries. This uncertainty allows many to continue to wait for disastrous results to occur, or even bypass them as unrelated to climate change. Another issue lies in the difficulty in utilizing statistical analysis test because of the major uncertainties associated with the results of the new scenario models. Long time frames, into the year 2100 or more are required for estimates. Also, various assumptions are made in the construction of these new models, which inherently can skew results. New models can be large and complex, and within this complexity some information about natural and social systems cannot be quantified. Consequences of human policy changes may not be considered or even known for decades and this may lead to surprises in the future. There are many categories within the system that are difficult to quantify like human, animal and plant life, health, and diversity. Our book mentions a separate reason for many countries to choose to wait for results of climate change. Costs to the various countries of doing nothing: that is, simply adapting to global warming are likely to place limits on the extent to which any particular country will readily accept CO2 emission reduction requirements, as no country is likely to want to spend more in control costs than the cost of accommodating to the change…Countries differ also in terms of agricultural adaptability, the ability to shift crops, crop varieties, cultivation methods, and so on, to maintain production in the face of climate changes. So, countries are likely to have very different perceptions about how they will be affected by global warming (Field and Field 2017, 377).

I believe that instead of the wait and see approach, we rely on the advancements made in scenario-based science to understand and develop individualized climate change plans. New emission scenarios were developed because of the inherent uncertainties of potential forcing’s of, and reactions to, climate change. The potential consequences of these uncertainties each requires different response options. Aspects of mitigation and adaptation are uniquely tied to these uncertain futures. These scenarios provide plausible descriptions of how the future might unfold in several key areas- socioeconomic, technological and environmental conditions, emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, and climate. When applied in climate change research, scenarios help to evaluate uncertainty about human contributions to climate change, the response of the Earth system to human activities, the impacts of a range of future climates, and the implications of different approaches to mitigation and adaptation.” (Moss, et al. 2010, 747). A better understanding of the uncertainties is needed prior to reaching decisions about a range of possible futures. New coordinated processes allow researchers from various scientific disciplines to work in parallel with one another with a common starting point of four scenarios of future radiative forcing’s. Radiative forcing is a direct measure of the amount that the Earth’s energy budget is out of balance (Chandler 2010). New scenarios take a multitude of factors into consideration including, potential discharges to the atmosphere of substances (greenhouse gases and aerosols), environmental factors like land use and land cover, patterns of economic and population growth, and technology. Today, scenarios represent major driving forces, processes, impacts (physical, ecological and economic) and potential responses important for informing climate change policy (Moss, et al. 2010, 748). Scenarios utilized in new climate research are based not only on earlier scenario work but also emission, climate, environmental, and vulnerability scenarios. New scenarios also utilize recent observations and current information on climate system processes to characterize future climate conditions. The implications of climate change for the environment and society will depend not only on the response of the Earth system to changes in radiative forcing’s, but also on how humankind responds through changes in technology, economies, lifestyle and policy. I believe we can utilize each scenario and their implications to drive decisions that are based on individualized data. The amalgamation of each response will subsequently formulate a global change.


Chandler, D. L. (2010, March 10). Explained: Radiative forcing. Retrieved July 15, 2020, from to an external site.

Field, Barry C., and Martha K. Field. 2017. Environmental Economics: An Introduction. Seventh Edition. The Mcgraw-Hill Series. New York: McGraw-Hill Education.

Richard, M. H., Edmonds, J. A., Hibbard, K. A., Manning, M. R., & Rose, S. K. (2010). The next generation of scenarios for climate change research and assessment. Nature, 463(7282), 747-756. doi:10.1038/nature08823

Comment by Professor Thomas:

Interesting points on the scenarios.

The power of story is that a clear and compelling story can appeal to nearly everyone, and we remember the key points – the plot line and/or interesting characters for decades afterwards. In short, a story is a very efficient and powerful way to communicate. Good scenarios are stories. They are narrative. Modelers of various sorts, including economists, often refer to “scenarios” when they mean a spreadsheet filled with numbers signifying key parameters and how they differ according to each “scenario.” Well, fine, but that is not the same thing at all. This from a journal article I wrote a few years ago:

Scenarios enable us to present complex issues in the form of a relatively small number of alternative “visions” of how the future may unfold. Comparing the potential consequences of planned actions against alternative future contexts can provide a basis for discussion among planners and give leaders more information as well as a better understanding of the effects of uncertainty upon decision making. Scenarios are outlines of events—plausible, fictional plots for the future “constructed for the purpose of focusing attention on causal processes and decision points.” Leaders commonly and informally use scenarios to evaluate individual and organizational performance against a range of likely variables, or to “check out” a key policy or practice through a complex, imaginary environment. Scenarios in the “alternative futures” context contain more carefully defined sociological, political, and environmental factors on which planners can build adaptive policies. The scenarios integrate what is occurring and what may come to pass in a region; they give decision makers a glimpse of futures that differ from the extrapolated present, which is the typical default “trend future.” Blindly relying on a trend future built upon assumptions that might expose the installation to surprises is shortsighted. Scenarios also offer a context for discussing planning options with stakeholders. One can use them as an evaluation tool for predicting shortfalls and inherent inflexibilities before a project begins. The cross-disciplinary planning dialogue integrates typically isolated expertise (“stovepipes”) within a single, structured planning framework. Using scenarios, planners can integrate information from each planning discipline to build and execute detailed scenarios with concise, measurable, and plausible outcomes. As a result, decision makers can then consider the implications of plans in more concrete, less abstract terms.

For background on scenario studies, see Peter Schwartz, The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World (New York: Doubleday, 1991).

I have also attached another journal article on scenario planning.

My Comment:

I am particularly interested in how the insights gained from exploring plausible futures can be applied to a specific region. I looked into a case studyLinks to an external site. focused on urban growth in Southern Nevada (Trammell et al. 2017). The project modeled drivers of change, resource impacts, and potential policy responses for a variety of environmental components including energy, water, and biodiversity. For example, it was fascinating to read the study examined the renewable energy boom’s impact on water and biodiversity. The researchers did not only integrate environmental components, rather, they also analyzed the situation from a variety of human accounts.

Although the study is spatially narrowed down, the planners still needed to collaborate with a range of agencies and stakeholders having conflicting interests, across jurisdictional boundaries, and understand diverse sub-climates within the area. Further, it’s interesting the study commends cultivating complexity. Scenarios are beneficial because they push natural resource managers to gain a comprehensive understanding of a given situation. For example, in the study, the Southern Nevada region is 90% dominated by federal entities such as the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and other Department of Defense. While they are all under the federal umbrella, each agency “varies in its management strategies and rules for determining which uses are permitted on various parcels under its supervision” (Trammell et al. 2017). Even though the scenario is dealing with physical pockets disposed to private actors particularly devoted to land development, understanding the strategies of all these groups is productive. Further, instead of other scientific endeavors aiming to constantly simplify, scenario planning initially does the opposite as evoking creativity makes room to understand how driving forces interact to affect valued resources (Trammell et al. 2017). Only extrapolating the present is relatively restrictive. On the other hand, scenario planning provides a plethora of prompts which is a strong basis for discussion. In the face of global climate change, I imagine scenario planning is going to be widely useful considering the nature of the term as the atmosphere is changing and it is applicable to all humans on earth. Specifically, the critical uncertainties (Will enough water be available for both maintenance and natural resource consumption? Will drastic climate change occur? Will population grow as it has in the past 30 years? Will the economy prosper?) identified by this region’s stakeholders are aligned with general concerns.

The methods stage of scenario planning is intriguing. First of all, the Delphi-based survey method is specifically useful for gathering a paradoxically collective opinion from a diverse group. It is a great tactic to adopt in cases such as this one where the population is both urban and rural. Even though scenario planning is future-oriented, the researchers took a “stakeholder-defined approach” while devising surveys which I commend as it honors the people who already have been residing there in the past (Trammell et al. 2017). Combining scenario planning with input from individuals who deeply know about the area is brilliant. It is a way of brining historical context into the process. Engaging with existing agency planners and reviewing their respective documents emphasizes the importance of informed scenario planning. The surveys were designed to understand which issues need to be prioritized based upon how inhabitants are perceiving mechanisms of change. Attention was given to critical uncertainties, difficult to predict. Responses were collected and returned to each group over and over again, as participants were asked to repeatedly re-consider their responses. The renditions enabled respondents to reflect and reevaluate issues, clarify points of agreement and distinction.

Along with the surveying, the researchers gathered quantitative data. The authors explain “because we were developing futures related to land use and land management, spatial and temporal relationships were key features defining the futures” (Trammell et al. 2017). In order to be informed in envisioning accurate future situations, decision-makers need to paint accurate pictures of the present. It is interesting thoroughly understanding present objective conditions aid natural resource managers in having subjective-based conversations about the future. Lastly, it is interesting that, although the researchers still conducted the project despite scenario-planning’s inherently complex nature, “important similarities among futures also emerged, identifying important trends that are likely to exist in any future for the region” (Trammell et al. 2017). From there, a scenario-based study manifests a common understanding of plausible futures amongst stakeholders which supports taking action.