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Divergent, plausible, and relevant climate futures for near- and long-term resource planning

August 13, 2021

Scenario planning has emerged as a widely used planning process for resource management in situations of consequential, irreducible uncertainty. Because it explicitly incorporates uncertainty, scenario planning is regularly employed in climate change adaptation. An early and essential step in developing scenarios is identifying “climate futures”—descriptions of the physical attributes of plausible future climates that could occur at a specific place and time. Divergent climate futures that describe the broadest possible range of plausible conditions support information needs of decision makers, including understanding the spectrum of potential resource responses to climate change, developing strategies robust to that range, avoiding highly consequential surprises, and averting maladaptation. Here, we discuss three approaches for generating climate futures: a Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP)-ensemble, a quadrant-average, and an individual-projection approach. All are designed to capture relevant uncertainty, but they differ in utility for different applications, complexity, and effort required to implement. Using an application from Big Bend National Park as an example of numerous similar efforts to develop climate futures for National Park Service applications over the past decade, we compare these approaches, focusing on their ability to capture among-projection divergence during early-, mid-, and late-twenty-first century periods to align with near-, mid-, and long-term planning efforts. The quadrant-average approach and especially the individual-projection approach captured a broader range of plausible future conditions than the RCP-ensemble approach, particularly in the near term. Therefore, the individual-projection approach supports decision makers seeking to understand the broadest potential characterization of future conditions. We discuss tradeoffs associated with different climate future approaches and highlight suitable applications.

Publication Year 2021
Title Divergent, plausible, and relevant climate futures for near- and long-term resource planning
DOI 10.1007/s10584-021-03169-y
Authors David J. Lawrence, Amber N. Runyon, John E. Gross, Gregor W. Schuurman, Brian W. Miller
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Climatic Change
Index ID 70223207
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization North Central Climate Adaptation Science Center