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Energy to 2050, Scenarios for a Sustainable Future, 2003

Energy to 2050, Scenarios for a Sustainable Future, 2003

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Published by: i-people on Mar 28, 2008
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03/26/2013

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The type of scenario with which we are most familiar is the reference
scenario of the forecasting type, which assumes the continuation of
historical trends into the future and that the structure of the system
remains unchanged or responds in predetermined forms.

This type of scenario is often referred to as a "business-as-usual (BAU)
scenario". In consideration of the inertia of many of the systems under
investigation, a short to mid-term forecast is often viewed as a scenario with
a high probability associated to it. But when projected over a longer time
horizon those trends may turn out to be extremely unlikely. The system may
be, for instance, close to a turning point, or display previously undetected
chaotic features. Some of the underlying factors that drive an
energy/environment system (including, for instance, technological
development, degree of openness of markets, social structures,
environmental values held by the people, and so on) are much less
predictable. However, over periods of 30 to 50 years, it is precisely these
factors that are the most important. And it is in this medium-long-term
horizon (30-50 years out), that many of the critical environmental issues
become most pertinent. For example, climate change and the growth in
emissions that lead to global warming have their impact over a period of
100 years – with the near term path only critical in how it affects longer-
term, cumulative emissions. Therefore, over the long run it is difficult and
risky to base one’s future strategy uniquely on BAU scenarios and forecasts.
Policy scenarios, designed to analyse the impact of introducing a new policy
in a context that in every other respect reflects the continuation of present
trends, often present many of the same limitations of BAU scenarios.

Exploratory scenarios, on the other hand, are designed to explore several
plausible future configurations of the world. The purpose is of identifying
across those scenarios the most robust strategies from the standpoint of
the subject that undertakes the exploration. From the point of view of
designing strategic action, it is often plausible scenarios running counter
to conventional wisdom that are the most fruitful.

Identifying factors that affect GHG emissions paths over a 50-year period
would be helpful in making policy choices. Similarly, environmental
implications of new technologies may demonstrate critical path
dependencies over a similar time frame – particularly in the energy sector,
where capital stock turnover of large-scale power plants is usually
measured in terms of 30 or more years. Exploratory scenarios thus can:

15

Background

■help scientists and policy analysts to identify the main dimensions and

drivers that shape those future worlds;

■help them to explore and understand the dynamic links among the

main drivers and to assess their relative importance (in terms of
potential impacts) as sources of uncertainty;

■allow a more systematic and full appreciation of the uncertainties that

lie ahead in the energy and environment domain.

Exploring and identifying the uncertainties over such factors becomes
critical in order to formulate "least regret" strategies that, given the
uncertainty, produce the fewest drawbacks, if not the greatest benefits.
Those strategies that minimize regrets over different possible outcomes can
then be valid candidates for implementation. The potential implications for
policy of this type of scenarios are clear. In this case scenarios are used in
their "explorative" mode, for strategic planning purposes.

This type of work, however, requires substantial effort because several
scenarios, and as many internally consistent and plausible chains of events
or storylines, have to be developed on the basis of the alternative
outcomes of the critical uncertainty factors identified.

To a large extent, agents (individuals, businesses) and societies have the
capacity to shape their own future, and often have the means to
implement their vision. The task then becomes one of identifying the
necessary steps and the roadmap to get there: in the case of energy and
the environment steps refer to policies needed, R&D policy, and so on. In
this second case scenarios are of the "normative" type, and the path to
their implementation is outlined through a "back-casting" process.

Normative scenarios can be designed on the basis of a set of desirable
features (or "norms") that the future world should possess according to
the agent elaborating the scenario. This type of scenario is inherently
policy oriented and prescriptive. That is to say such scenarios assume that
policy actions can shape a future in the desired image, and they are
designed to identify the policy actions required.

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