Taking the Long Term View on Climate Change Mitigation and Energy Use

Analysing the interaction between energy and climate change mitigation requires a long term perspective – looking up to fifty years ahead. The future is by definition, unknown and cannot be predicted, particularly over longer periods. However, strategic planning and political decisions demand that we explore options for the future. These are best developed through scenarios, conjectures as to what might happened in the future based on our past and present experience of the world and on plausible speculation about how these trends may further evolve.

A newly-launched publication from the International Energy Agency (IEA), Energy to 2050 – Scenarios for a Sustainable Future introduces different types of scenarios and evaluates how they can be used to analyse specific aspects of the interaction between energy and environment over the longer term. It examines “exploratory scenarios” and “normative scenarios.”

Exploratory scenarios are based on the correct identification of a few critical uncertainty factors and are designed to explore several plausible future configurations of the world, based on different expectations of technical and/or policy developments over the near- to medium-term.

Normative scenarios are developed to evaluate how a specific outcome can be reached. They are designed on the basis of a set of desirable features or “norms” that the future world should possess. The exercise then consists of tracing backwards a viable path from such an outcome to today – pointing the way to reaching that desirable future. These long-term scenarios complement the IEA’s World Energy Outlook, which presents a mid-term business-as-usual scenario with some variants.

The results from the scenarios presented in Energy to 2050 – Scenarios for a Sustainable Future and other exploratory or normative scenarios can help identify powerful strategies to minimize costs of both economic dislocations and environmental damage in the development of future energy paths. This will assist in promoting better policy choices in the energy sector.

The scenarios depicted in this study do not represent a consensus view of the IEA Member countries and are not likely to come to pass in the precise way they are outlined. However the methodology which supports them provides a useful tool for the governments of IEA countries to assess and when appropriate, to consider redirecting their energy and environment policies to achieve a more secure and sustainable energy future. The analysis in this study seeks to stimulate new thinking in this critical domain.