Improving environmental change research with systematic techniques for qualitative scenarios

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Improving environmental change research with systematic techniques for qualitative scenarios
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Scenarios are key tools in analyses of global environmental change. Often they consist of quantitative and qualitative components, where the qualitative aspects are expressed in narrative, or storyline, form. Fundamental challenges in scenario development and use include identifying a small set of compelling storylines that span a broad range of policy-relevant futures, documenting that the assumptions embodied in the storylines are internally consistent, and ensuring that the selected storylines are sufficiently comprehensive, that is, that descriptions of important kinds of future developments are not left out. The dominant approach to scenario design for environmental change research has been criticized for lacking sufficient means of ensuring that storylines are internally consistent. A consequence of this shortcoming could be an artificial constraint on the range of plausible futures considered. We demonstrate the application of a more systematic technique for the development of storylines called the cross-impact balance (CIB) method. We perform a case study on the scenarios published in the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES), which are widely used. CIB analysis scores scenarios in terms of internal consistency. It can also construct a very large number of scenarios consisting of combinations of assumptions about individual scenario elements and rank these combinations in terms of internal consistency. Using this method, we find that the four principal storylines employed in the SRES scenarios vary widely in internal consistency. One type of storyline involving highly carbon-intensive development is underrepresented in the SRES scenario set. We conclude that systematic techniques like CIB analysis hold promise for improving scenario development in global change research.

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studies of large-scale environmental change such as climate change require representations of both biophysical and socio-economic systems traditionally biophysical systems and some characteristics of socioeconomic systems are represented with quantitative simulation however some socio-economic developments are better represented through qualitative narrative description while it is expected that biophysical modeling and socio-economic modeling that can be represented in a quantitative simulation is going to represent the system dynamics that are understood by scientists this sort of expectation for rigor for the qualitative narratives is substantially relaxed the common strategy for trying to address this mismatch is to have the quantitative simulation act as a check for the internal consistency of the qualitative narrative the conventional thinking is that if the quantitative simulation can substantiate what is described in a qualitative narrative the narrative has been shown to also be internally consistent with system dynamics that are understood by scientists in this paper we critically examine this practice since the qualitative narrative is supposed to represent dynamics that are not captured by the quantity model this could mean that the internal consistency check that a quantitative simulation does provide is actually quite limited which could then introduce an artificial constraint on the range of plausible futures that are considered with this kind of shortcoming there could be deep implications for the recommendations as well as the analysis that is presented in an environmental change study this special report on emission scenarios commissioned by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC was a case study from
information published in the report we selected 6th socio-economic drivers of emissions and used the cross impact balance method to record semi-quantitative judgments
into a matrix for each socio-economic driver from these quantities the self-consistency of any scenario can be
assessed and a score for internal consistency recorded from inconsistencies course for all scenarios possible 1 can then construct a frequency
distribution that distinguishes scenarios with strong internal consistency from those that perform poorly we were particularly interested in the performance of the IPCC scenarios and were able to note their
inconsistency scores Our 1st main result is that the IPCC scenarios have varying levels of internal consistency as evidenced by the spread across the frequency distribution 2nd scenarios with
strong internal consistency not featured in the IPCC report could be found many of the scenarios described future reliance on coal coupled with high economic growth 3rd
these findings were robust 214 sensitivity tests across all of these tests 17 non IPCC scenarios retained to the strong internal consistency while for IPCC scenarios that the same among these robust IPCC and non IPCC scenarios only to reflect energy structures with low carbon intensity in analysis emission scenarios that were on the higher end of the spectrum were able to withstand many of our sensitivity tests while only a few lower emission scenarios were able to do this thus a main conclusion of our paper is that in the absence of climate policy the global energy system has tendencies toward higher emissions this is an important point because the IPCC special Report instead presented both lower emissions and higher emission scenarios as equally plausible in the absence of climate policy we have concluded that this may actually be an understatement of the global mitigation challenge