Adaptation decision-making for uncertain futures: practical application of scenarios

11:15 Wednesday 29 May


Room S2


Ruth Monfries (United Kingdom) 1; Anne Marte Bergseng (United Kingdom) 1

1 - ClimateXChange

Planning for uncertain futures is a major challenge for policymakers and decision makers in climate change adaptation. The range of unknowns includes future emissions trajectories, climate change impacts, and socio-economic conditions. Knowledge providers often allow for these unknowns by considering a range of scenarios that decision makers may have to account for in their adaptation planning.

This interactive session will:

  • present examples of how scenarios have been applied in decision making and the lessons learnt from the processes;
  • share learning from their research and experience; and
  • discuss and distil a set of main messages around practical use,  limitations of and alternatives beyond scenarios in adaptation decision making.

Participants will discuss the benefits and limitations of scenario planning as a tool, and how to make best use of these lessons in work with different stakeholders and at different scales.

Scenarios may be produced by external specialists, such as the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) adopted by the IPCC AR5, or may be built by stakeholders working together in participatory scenario planning. A combination of both model-led scenarios (such as the SSPs and RCPs) and participatory approaches is also common. For example, with the multiscale scenario methodology, which involves ‘nesting’ sub-global scenario in global scenarios.

The session will explore ways to successfully apply scenarios, considering ways to extract actionable information from the wealth of data available, and apply it to individual situations avoiding either:

  • ‘Paralysis by analysis’ – where action is delayed, or not undertaken because of a perceived need for more evidence;
  • Maladaptation – where inappropriate, insufficient or sub-optimal action is taken due to insufficient knowledge.

To accommodate a range of possibilities in their decisions, and integrate knowledge generated from model-led scenarios with other knowledge sources, institutions may have to adopt new ways of working. Solutions providing a means to move forward while faced with a range of possibilities may include the use of flexible adaptation pathways, iterative processes, and incremental steps. Alternative adaptation options can be tested and compared against multiple scenarios.   Further topics for discussion include issues around scale; international and national policy, accounting for specific local conditions; the interconnections across scales and sectors, and evaluating the relevance and effectiveness of scenarios in subsequent decision-making.

The discussions will be summarised in a report for researchers, practitioners and policy makers.

Target audience The session will help participants to make better use of scenarios as an instrument in practical adaptation planning and decision making. It will benefit all those involved in the production of scenarios, the distillation of that knowledge into actionable information, and end users, including for example climate scientists, scenario planners, modellers, social scientists, researchers, policymakers and decision-makers working at various scales, knowledge brokers and climate service providers. Proposed format for the session 6 short presentations of projects from across Europe and Australia will look at different aspects of using scenarios – from defining the challenge to evaluating the process:

  • Adaptation planning challenges in local development
  • Developing multiscale scenarios
  • Exploring scenarios in research planning
  • Identifying collaborative adaptation options
  • Tools to make climate scenarios more accessible
  • Evaluating scenario planning

Following a Q&A we will invite participants to reflect on the presentations and their own experience of using scenarios to identify benefits and limitations of using scenarios, and what the alternatives to scenario planning might be.

The structured discussion will be captured to produce a report for researchers, practitioners and policy makers.

Contributing Authors abstracts

1. Adaptation planning challenges in local development – Ruth Monfries, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and Anne Marte Bergseng, ClimateXChange, UK

Successful adaptive action needs to account for local context and requires a broad and cross-sectoral approach. Local authorities therefore have a key role in implementing national adaptation policy while taking into account the unique local needs and characteristics of their area:

  • Where is adaptation considered in local authority decision making or planning processes?
  • What are the barriers and drivers for meeting adaptation policy objectives?
  • What are the knowledge and evidence requirements for ensuring adaptation is given due weight within this process?

Through a ClimateXChange project looking at the multiple scales and multi-level governance issue in climate change adaptation, in particular how adaptation is incorporated into regional decision-making processes that shape spatial planning and development, the presentation will consider how scenarios may help or hinder the local adaptation planning process. This scene-setting for the session is based on a case study of the Stirling City Region Deal in the UK – a major development proposal incorporating a breadth of different projects over multiple locations.

2. Developing multiscale scenarios – Simona Pedde, Wageningen University, NL and CEH, UK, Elizabeth Clarke, University of Edinburgh, UK, KIT – Germany and University of Edinburgh, UK, Emma Terama, SYKE – Finland

Developing relevant multiscale scenarios which, on one hand, have to be scientifically credible but, on the other hand, also relevant to policy needs remains a main challenge of the SSP x RCP framework, especially with transferring scale assumptions from global to national and local scales. This presentation looks at future urbanisation in Europe, for which demographic dynamics and societal preferences are considered some of the main drivers.

The approach explores the effect of using multiscale scenario assumptions of demographic change using two methodologies:

  • downscaled quantifications from the global SSPs; and
  • bottom-up qualitative trends.

The advantage of having pan-European, top-down data is that population development is connected in a spatially-consistent way across regions. Bottom-up approaches are also important since they can account for local contexts such as differences in land use planning policy that is implemented locally, but also influenced by national and subnational governance structures.

The results show that, in all scenarios, the driver trends of residential preference and population are very diverse. However, the modelled results for 2100 show a maximum increase of 20% in artificial surface in Europe, compared to the baseline, in three out of four SSPs (SSP1, SSP3, and SSP4). On the one hand, a strong dependency between key modelling outcomes and demographic assumptions exists, especially assumptions on fertility in SSP5. On the other hand, pan-European scenarios alone do not include all drivers.

3. Exploring scenarios in research planning – Matt Aitkenhead and Kerry Waylen, The James Hutton Institute, UK

SEFARI delivers strategic research across environment, food, agriculture and land. Through workshops with stakeholders involved in research and environmental regulation connected with climate change, this project has explored ‘scenarios of extreme climate change in Scotland’ with a focus on food security, ecosystem resilience and innovation for sustainable communities. Participants in the project were given a small number of scenarios to discuss and interpret. Each scenario contained drivers that will impact on society and the environment in many ways. Discussion focused on potential responses to these drivers and their impacts, in terms of what knowledge will be required to do so effectively, and how these responses fit with existing practices.

By bringing together a range of experience, disciplines and ideas in this way, the project will be able to produce a comprehensive list of research and policy priorities that are likely to come up over the long term. This will allow everyone to orient themselves to future research calls and policy needs in relation to future extreme climate change, resulting in a more coordinated and effective approach. Matt will discuss how this approach seeks to help research organisations (including our partners from across SEFARI) and other stakeholders working on research connected with climate change, to orient themselves to the future research calls and policy needs regarding the future extreme climate change scenarios we could all face.

4. Identifying collaborative adaptation options – Rohan Hamden and Karl Mallon, XDI Cross Dependency Initiative, Australia

The presentation outlines an on the ground project that identified and quantified the extent to which interdependency analysis and climate change scenarios improves real world decision making for essential infrastructure in British Columbia, especially through identified collaborative adaptation options.

It demonstrated the business cases for co-investment in infrastructure resulting from the cascading failure where the failure of one infrastructure node (say a power transformer) causes failures in dependent nodes (e.g. telecommunications towers and water pumps). The system used in the project identified the probability and cost of failure each year for 100 years under diverse climate scenarios and establishes the business cases for investment to build resilience now and in to the future.

The focus of the project is the town of Nanaimo in British Columbia. It was sponsored by the government of British Columbia and included regional infrastructure providers, government departments and municipal governments. The project took a system wide view of infrastructure. Cross dependent analysis helped to build resilience in the face of growing risks from extreme weather and climate change.

The approach is readily replicable and highly scalable. It can be applied to a small number of assets in a local area, through to millions of assets across a region or country.

5. Tools to make climate scenarios more accessible – Kasper Kok and Nienke Ansems, Wageningen University & Research, NL, Simona Pedde, Wageningen University, NL and CEH, UK

SENSES investigates potential socio-economic futures in the face of climate change and how this knowledge can be made accessible to a broader public. The project will develop tools and approaches to make the new generation of climate change scenarios more comprehensible, culminating in a climate service for decision makers. We will identify central needs for this step in a co-creation process between scientists and decision makers from policy and business.

Within this project, a case study in the Netherlands will work with stakeholders to co-produce integrated (adaptation and mitigation) pathways for a small watershed in the east of the country.  The work includes local scenario development, and construction of adaptation and mitigation pathways.

6. Identifying collaborative adaptation options – James Butler and Erin Bohensky, CSIRO Land & Water, Australia

Research for development and positive transformation centres on ‘action research’. Participatory scenario planning is a popular form of action research, and may generate and catalyse single-, double-, and triple-loop learning that can support adaptation to future change. However, little scenario planning to date has been formally or consistently evaluated, creating a gap in our understanding of its outcomes in differing socio-cultural conditions. In this presentation we evaluate the same scenario planning process conducted in three socio-cultural contexts: Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Indigenous Australia.

Despite the same objective – to build capacity for collective learning and adaptation action amongst community, government and private sector stakeholders – the participatory process and outcomes showed important differences. First, the ease of engaging stakeholders varied, because the incentives for participation differed in each location. Second, it was difficult to understand and negotiate the politics and power inherent within the processes, and the influence of these variables differed between locations. Third, subsequent evaluation of all three processes showed that, perhaps due to the previous factors, the impact of scenario planning on adaptation action differed – but the efficacy of evaluation also varied. We discuss the implications for the design of scenario planning processes if its potential utility is to be enhanced.