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Planning for the future: can climate change be brought into development planning through scenarios?

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:15


Andrew Watkinson - Director, Living  with Environmental change, NERC
Nick Turner - President, Global Business Network


Colin Challen MP - Chair, All Party Climate Change Group 

Colin Challen MP welcomed all present and introduced the first speaker Mr Nick Turner, co-President of the Global Business Network.

Nick Turner outlined the background of the Global Business Network (GBN): set up in 1987 by former Shell team members, GBN created a methodology to planning through scenarios for policy and strategy making. The origin of scenario thinking lies in the military and then corporate sector. GBN has many clients in private, public and third sector, and has worked with multi stakeholder projects, including significant experience in climate change and sustainability.

Turner pointed out that climate change is extremely complex, involving multi stakeholders, multiple responses and different forms of adaptability. Climate change, sustainability and development are systemic issues, and scenarios approaches aim to take this into account.

Turner said that as humans, when faced with thinking about future uncertainty, the response is either paralysis or denial. Scenarios offer a tool to address this through encouraging a diversity of perspectives and outside-in approaches to thinking through issues external to the organisation or issue before focussing on the issue itself. Scenarios assist the process of decision-making. The first part of creating a scenario involves divergence, the second is convergence. It’s not about ‘I believe X’, but about ‘can you imagine? What can you do about it?’

Turner went on to give 3 examples of recent work using scenarios in climate change and development.

The first case study Turner described was work with US business leaders and experts assessing the impacts of climate change on US business as a whole. Firstly, the most important uncertainties were identified. The questions asked included: ‘What is the role of business in thinking about climate change?’ and ‘Who will take the leadership roles?’. The participants co-created a range of scenarios and explored the implications of these scenarios in the business sector. There were four different scenarios and possible solutions based around different perceptions of available response times (5-20+ years) and coherence of global response. Turner summarised five conclusions from the work:

  1. Corporations have to think beyond their carbon footprint;
  2. Corporations must not wait for regulation: think ahead;
  3. Mitigation and adaptation need to be considered together (which was news 18 months ago when the study was undertaken in the US; more widely accepted now);
  4. Scenarios need to engage with a broad pool of stakeholders;
  5. Early climate change response can be a form of competitive advantage.

In the second case study, the Future of Marine Navigation in 2050, run with the Arctic Council, Turner described a scenarios process analysing the implications of the creation of navigable spaces in the Arctic region in the longer term. The two axes of uncertainty chosen centred on levels of governance, and varying demand for resources and trade, and how these would affect Arctic wealth, resources and cultures. How would people adapt to this new reality?

Rules-based governance versus unstable scenarios. Turner concluded that the scenarios process:

  1. Enabled people to think together;
  2. Identified the need for further research in certain areas;
  3. Showed the need for greater alignment between the stakeholders.

The final case study Turner outlined was funded by a Dutch development agency, examining Development Futures inCentral America. GBN provided assistance to think through various development issues such as education, health, food and water security and climate change adaptation. The axes of uncertainty centred on how fragmented the approach to regional development would be, and whether global economy would become more or less protectionist.  Participants found the process allowed them to think of new ways of working together and seeking solutions within their own groups rather than looking for an external ‘saviour’. Implications of this included:

  1. Sponsorship and leadership is critical;
  2. Co-creation process is the most critical part of scenarios;
  3. It takes time, and there is no substitute for this as it is about internalising different perspectives;
  4. Once scenarios are created, it needs confidence and ability to act on them.

Prof. Andrew Watkinson began by outlining the Living with Environmental Change Program of which he is Director, a 20 partner programme including academia, delivery partners and government.

Watkinson sees a number of challenges in the future: climate change is linked to many other challenges, like population growth, globalisation, infectious diseases, poverty, technological change, food, water and energy security, and biodiversity loss.

Watkinson noted the difficulties of future prediction, in particular in the light of an incomplete understanding of climate science. Watkinson said that there is only a 50% chance of keeping climate change below 2 degrees Celsius. Communities and societies have no idea what adapting to 3 or 4 degrees means: it is a phenomenal change. Some parts of the climate system are extremely influential and very difficult to model, such as the Indian monsoon and food production. A new programme, ‘AVOID Climate change’, will address these issues.

Watkinson considers that scenarios enable exploration of the uncertainties of the future. One example is the scenario analysis of Foresight created for the flood system in England and Wales. Four scenarios were designed with a range of drivers and a formal risk analysis and associated socio-economic storylines. This took into account variables such as rain patterns, population, temperature rise, etc. London was found to be particularly vulnerable to flooding. Since this study, this methodology has been applied in China, Russia and the USA. Many countries do not have the excellent data of China, for example, which hinders modelling of climate data.

In the absence of good data, an approach of robust decision making under uncertainty can be illuminating. The Environment Agency used this approach to examine futures for the Thames in Thames 2100. With future levels of sea level rise unknown -the IPCC which estimated 60cm; current estimates are 1-2m- this uncertainty still needs to be planned for. The approach was taken to examine different possible defences and at what level of sea level rise these would be useful. The investigation found that up to 50cm sea level rise London is fairly safe with incremental adaptations ‘– a few bricks here and there’; at 2m sea level rise, a new Thames flood barrier would need to be built.  Thus the scenarios process allowed consideration of different futures and implications for investment. Watkinson claimed that this technique is potentially powerful in the developing world if there is little data available.

The final example Watkinson gave was of current variability to assess and plan for future vulnerability to climate change. Aims of the DFID-funded Climate Change Adaptation in Africa Programme (CCAA) include:

1.    A significant and timely development

2.    Delivering the adaptation agenda

3.    Integrate climate change and climate variability

4.    Integration and up-scaling

5.    Develop support networks and research capacity

6.    Devolution of ownership

However sometimes the focus can be too much on current development plans and not in integrating future climate change into projects; this needs to be addressed.

Watkinson concluded by reiterating that society has not really understood the severity and depth of the impacts that we are going to face in the future with population growth and feeding 9 billion in 2030, a 30% increase in demand for water and 50% increase in demand for energy. Providing good science is not enough; legislation, government and planning are also needed. Concluding points were:

·         Climate change is one of a number of integrated challenges that need to be addressed in planning for the future;

·         There is a need for better prediction of climate change at a range of scales that are relevant to the economy;

·         Adaptation efforts need not to be limited by the lack of reliable foresight about future environmental conditions;

·         There are methods and tools that allow the planning of adaptation to climate change despite deep uncertainties.

Discussion centred around a number of issues:

·           Can economic growth co-exist with climate change? AW suggests that we have to start thinking about climate change in very different ways with a different approach. NT points out that despite the economic crisis there are a number of exciting business opportunities.

·           The role of technology in mitigating climate change – AW -Carbon Capture and Storage is not ‘ready to go’ in the time frame that we need and needs more investment and there other technologies are on the horizon  - such as nuclear fusion – but we must use what available technologies we have and not wait any longer

·           Future scenarios – what does adaptation mean – is it protectionist and conflict-ridden with expected uncertainties, or a more cooperative future?

·           Differences between public sector and private sector scenarios?

·           Should scenario creation be a small, expert group process or should it be much wider in order to motivate and get people on board? NT suggests ways of engaging more widely include theatre, TV ads and films.

·           Can we really move towards scenario planning and away from catastrophe driven responses? Historical evidence suggests people are not very good at doing this, though there are exceptions.


Climate change brings a series of challenges to the development and humanitarian community: how to reconcile scientific uncertainty with the need for clear future predictions for planning; how to bring long term strategic considerations into short term planning and funding cycles; and how to roll out swiftly and effectively the high levels of training and expertise required on climate change for development planning.

In the previous meeting in this series, Professor Kevin Anderson revealed that the most recent research findings points to an ever more stark future, with a possible 6°C global average rise in temperatures. How can we plan for the impacts of this? What is achievable and how can we do it best?

A number of programs, projects and approaches draw on knowledge and expertise in future planning using a range of tools including scenario generation. What have these approaches taught us to date, what can they offer, and how do they work in practice in developing country situations? How can government, business, multilateral bodies and civil society work together most effectively to achieve good planning in the face of unprecedented changes to our world?

In this meeting, the fourth in the Climate Change and International Development series of ODI and DFID, we welcome Professor Andrew Watkinson, biologist and Director of the Living With Environmental Change program of the Natural Resources and Environment Council, and Nick Turner, President of the Global Business Network and scenarios expert. They will discuss these issues from the perspective of science and in terms of application to the world of planners in business, government and across global society.

Committee Room 10