Multiscale Socioeconomic Scenarios for Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability Research


Scenarios are one of the most common approaches to representing future socioeconomic conditions and trends within integrated assessment modeling (IAM) and climate change impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability (IAV) research. Current trends in IAM and IAV research suggest that their historically distinct scales and objectives may be converging. Investments by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its national laboratories have focused on the development of regional IAM frameworks that resolve the macroeconomic impacts of regional- (i.e., subnational) scale climate impacts and policy responses while maintaining links to global-scale biophysical and economic processes. This convergence between the IAM and IAV communities suggests there may be strategic advantages in the development and use of a common framework for socioeconomic scenarios. The Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), which, in conjunction with the Representative Concentration Pathways, comprise the parallel scenario process, represent an opportunity to develop such a common framework. However, as the original SSP storylines represent descriptions of the future at the aggregate global level, subglobal and sectoral extensions are recognized as being an important process in enabling the SSPs to address research questions of interest to the IAV research community. Using the Factor-Actor-Sector framework, researchers from DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory developed sets of nested SSP storyline elements for the United States and the U.S. Southeast. Those elements consisted of key driving forces [e.g., population, gross domestic product (GDP), and technology], key actors relevant to the governance of socioeconomic systems, and key sectors. Storyline elements were integrated at the regional level to develop new storylines describing future trajectories for the energy, water, and agriculture sectors under each SSP. In addition, quantitative estimates of state population and GDP were developed for the U.S. Southeast that are consistent with national scenarios that have been developed by the IAM community. This study represents one approach for using the SSPs as boundary conditions for exploring alternative future socioeconomic conditions at multiple scales. However, this study also identifies specific challenges in using the SSPs for IAV research, including maintaining internal consistency across scales, addressing elements missing from the global SSP storylines, and translating storylines into parameters useful for quantitative modelling.


Absar, S.M., and B. L. Preston. 2015. “Extending the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways for Sub-National Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability studies,” Global Environmental Change 33, 83-96. DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.04.004.