| climate scenario planning |
USA and Europe would drop by more than 60 per cent and 50 per cent respectively.
Following the failure to secure a climate agreement at Copenhagen, the IEA issued a third scenario, called New Policies, which anticipates future actions by governments to meet the commitments they’ve made to tackle climate change and growing energy insecurity. ‘We introduced the new scenario based on governments changing their policies,’ says Fatih Birol, chief economist at the IEA. ‘In the wake of the major disappointment of Copenhagen, meeting the 450ppm scenario is far more challenging.’
The IEA’s action raises the suspicion that experts can produce all the scenarios they wish, but politicians will simply ignore them if they don’t coincide with short-term electoral expediency. Acknowledging the point, Birol says: ‘Industries and governments, energy users and academia need frameworks within which they can make their decisions. They can make a lot of good decisions and they can make bad decisions. I don’t think they’ll be so illogical as to follow our Baseline scenario – that would have very dramatic consequences for everybody.’ While personally endorsing Blue, the most radical of the IEA’s scenarios, Birol admits he steers clear of advocacy. ‘We just put the facts and numbers there and then it’s up to people to look at them. Personally, I would like to see the 450ppm scenario unfold, but I can’t say that it’s likely.’
argues. ‘I’m completely comfortable that some people will remain sceptical about this activity,’ he says. ‘Senior leadership recognises the need for challenges and external perspectives, and that this can occasionally be uncomfortable. From the CEO down, I have been told that at times, my role is to be tolerated, but not embraced, which feels like the right kind of balance.’
opening up Support for the principle of Shell’s scenarios comes from an apparently unlikely source: David Holmgren, the Australian co-founder of the international permaculture movement, whose own published scenario of how the world will shift away from fossil fuels helped to galvanise interest in sustainable land use.
‘I think Shell is a little more open than cynics suggest,’ he says. ‘It’s acknowledging that the world could change radically, and that oil companies could find themselves doing very different things from what they do now. I think it has gone beyond saying that it wants to protect its ability to dig out the last oil. It can see that that’s a diminishing world. The interest in scenario planning as a field has exploded because the idea that the future will look after itself is a shaky one.’
But Shell’s scenarios, like most such projections, have a major flaw, Holmgren argues, which is that all too often, they’re
‘All too often, scenarios reinforce existing behaviour rather than change it... They create a framework that people want to work to, and they tend to use them to justify their actions’
s c enario s c e p t i c i sm So does anyone actually pay attention to these scenarios, and are they as influential as Shell suggests? There’s a risk that scenarios will simply tell the audience what they want to hear, suggests Antony Froggatt, a senior research fellow at Chatham House. ‘All too often, scenarios reinforce existing behaviour rather than change it,’ he says. ‘There are quite a lot of scenarios out there, and everybody likes to do their own scenarios. They create a framework that people want to work to, and they tend to use them to justify their actions. It depends what you put into it. People who commission scenarios will discuss the framework and how they want to build the model. These are political decisions that inform the model.
‘None of Shell’s scenarios meets the 2°C target [that is, a 2°C rise in global temperatures from the Industrial Revolution to the end of the 21st century]. Is that because they don’t believe it’s possible, or is it a political decision? Do they think it’s just too costly for them to reach? Was it driven by other parameters – someone saying, “You can’t go into this issue?”’
Shell’s scenarios are necessarily drawn up from the company’s perspective, but Bentham insists that he has a remit to speak the truth and be candid with his bosses. Integrity and objectivity are fundamental to their credibility, he retrospective. ‘A lot of organisations are talking about the depletion of oil as a future scenario, not as a past event – that’s an enormous failure of scenarios and future planning,’ he says. ‘A lot of scenario planning is about how to frame things for people to get used to stuff that has already happened.’
Another problem, Froggatt points out, is the paucity of medium-term scenarios – covering the years 2020 to 2035. ‘You can see the logic of long-term vision to 2050, and meeting immediate targets to 2020, but it’s important to look at that point up to 2035,’ he says. ‘We have really quite radical needs for emissions reduction and it’s important to lay these out and ensure that the pace is kept up.’
Yet it’s the long-term scenarios that draw observers to gather around the crystal ball. In a move designed to clear some of the fog, Shell recently took the unusual step of publicly advocating its Blueprints scenario. ‘We’ve broken a 40-year tradition of neutrality,’ says Bentham. ‘We say quite clearly that we are a commercial organisation. We aim to be successful in serving our customers, whatever the scenarios, but clearly the outcome of a Blueprints-type scenario is better for society than the outcome of a
34 www.geographical.co.uk february 2011
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