WG II Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability - Technical Summary

Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptationand Vulnerability

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3. Scenarios of Future Change 3.1. Scenarios and their Role

A scenario is a coherent, internally consistent, and plausible description of a possible future state of the world. Scenarios are commonly required in climate change impact, adaptation, and vulnerability assessments to provide alternative views of future conditions considered likely to influence a given system or activity. A distinction is made between climate scenarios, which describe the forcing factor of focal interest to the IPCC, and nonclimatic scenarios, which provide the socioeconomic and environmental context within which climate forcing operates. Most assessments of the impacts of future climate change are based on results from impact models that rely on quantitative climate and nonclimatic scenarios as inputs. [3.1.1, Box 3-1]

3.2. Socioeconomic, Land-Use, and Environmental Scenarios

Nonclimatic scenarios describing future socioeconomic, land-use, and environmental changes are important for characterizing the sensitivity of systems to climate change, their vulnerability, and the capacity for adaptation. Such scenarios only recently have been widely adopted in impact assessments alongside climate scenarios.

Socioeconomic scenarios. Socioeconomic scenarios have been used more extensively for projecting GHG emissions than for assessing climate vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Most socioeconomic scenarios identify several different topics or domains, such as population or economic activity, as well as background factors such as the structure of governance, social values, and patterns of technological change. Scenarios make it possible to establish baseline socioeconomic vulnerability, pre-climate change; determine climate change impacts; and assess post-adaptation vulnerability. [3.2]

Land-use and land-cover change scenarios. Land-use change and land-cover change (LUC-LCC) involve several processes that are central to the estimation of climate change and its impacts. First, LUC-LCC influences carbon fluxes and GHG emissions, which directly alter atmospheric composition and radiative forcing properties. Second, LUC-LCC modifies land-surface characteristics and, indirectly, climatic processes. Third, land-cover modification and conversion may alter the properties of ecosystems and their vulnerability to climate change. Finally, several options and strategies for mitigating GHG emissions involve land cover and changed land-use practices. A great diversity of LUC-LCC scenarios have been constructed. Most of these scenarios do not address climate change issues explicitly, however; they focus on other issues -- for example, food security and carbon cycling. Large improvements have been made since the SAR in defining current and historic land-use and land-cover patterns, as well as in estimating future scenarios. Integrated assessment models currently are the most appropriate tools for developing LUC-LCC scenarios. [3.3.1, 3.3.2]

Environmental scenarios. Environmental scenarios refer to changes in environmental factors other than climate that will occur in the future regardless of climate change. Because these factors could have important roles in modifying the impacts of future climate change, scenarios are required to portray possible future environmental conditions such as atmospheric composition [e.g., carbon dioxide (CO2), tropospheric ozone, acidifying compounds, and ultraviolet-B (UV-B) radiation]; water availability, use, and quality; and marine pollution. Apart from the direct effects of CO2 enrichment, changes in other environmental factors rarely have been considered alongside climate changes in past impact assessments, although their use is increasing with the emergence of integrated assessment methods. [3.4.1]

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