by R. Pielke & J. Richtie, 2020 in EnergyRes&SocScience
Climate science research and assessments under the umbrella of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have misused scenarios for more than a decade. Symptoms of misuse have included the treatment of an unrealistic, extreme scenario as the world’s most likely future in the absence of climate policy and the illogical comparison of climate projections across inconsistent global development trajectories. Reasons why such misuse arose include (a) competing demands for scenarios from users in diverse academic disciplines that ultimately conflated exploratory and policy relevant pathways, (b) the evolving role of the IPCC – which extended its mandate in a way that creates an inter-relationship between literature assessment and literature coordination, (c) unforeseen consequences of employing a temporary approach to scenario development, (d) maintaining research practices that normalize careless use of scenarios, and (e) the inherent complexity and technicality of scenarios in model-based research and in support of policy. Consequently, much of the climate research community is presently off-track from scientific coherence and policy-relevance. Attempts to address scenario misuse within the community have thus far not worked. The result has been the widespread production of myopic or misleading perspectives on future climate change and climate policy. Until reform is implemented, we can expect the production of such perspectives to continue, threatening the overall credibility of the IPCC and associated climate research. However, because many aspects of climate change discourse are contingent on scenarios, there is considerable momentum that will make such a course correction difficult and contested – even as efforts to improve scenarios have informed research that will be included in the IPCC 6th Assessment.