Past, present and future perspectives


The development of scenarios in the AEO followed the pattern described in the GEO. As with the GEO-3 report, scenarios are based on the work of the Global Scenarios Group (GSG) (Gallopin and others, 1997). The GSG uses a two-tier hierarchy, described as 'classes' and 'variants', to categorize scenarios. Classes are distinguished by fundamentally different social visions, while variants reflect a range of possible outcomes within each class. The three broad classes are 'Conventional Worlds', 'Barbarization' and 'Great Transitions'. These are characterized, respectively, by: essential continuity with today's evolving development patterns; fundamental, but undesirable, social change; and fundamental and favourable social transformations. For each of the three classes, two variants are defined, giving a total of six scenarios. Thus, in the 'Conventional Worlds' class, the two scenarios that are emerging are 'Conventional Development' and 'Policy Reform'. The two scenarios in the 'Barbarization' class are 'Breakdown' and the 'Fortress World'. In the 'Great Transitions' class, the two scenarios are 'Ecocommunalism' and the 'New Sustainability Paradigm'.

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Figure 4.3: Scenarios structure with illustrative patterns of change over time

Gallopin,Hammond,A. H., Ruskin, P.D. and Swart, R. (1997)

The 'Conventional Worlds' class envisions the global system of the 21st century evolving without major surprises, sharp discontinuities or fundamental transformations in the basis for human civilization. The future is shaped by the continued evolution, expansion and globalization of the dominant values and socioeconomic relationships of industrial society. In contrast, the 'Barbarization' and 'Great Transition' classes relax the notion of the long-term continuity of dominant values and institutional arrangements. Indeed, these scenarios envision profound historical transformations in the fundamental organizing principles of society over the next century, perhaps as significant as the transition to settled agriculture and the industrial revolution.

Within the 'Conventional Worlds' class, the 'Reference' variant incorporates mid-range population and development projections, and typical technological change assumptions. The 'Policy Reform' variant adds strong, comprehensive and coordinated government action, as called for in many policy-oriented discussions of sustainability, in order to achieve greater social equity and environmental protection. In this variant, the political will evolves for strengthening management systems and for the rapid diffusion of environmentally friendly technology. Whatever their differences, the two 'Conventional Worlds' variants share a number of premises: the continuity of institutions and values; the rapid growth of the world economy; and the convergence of global regions toward the norms set by highly industrialized countries. Environmental stress arising from global population and economic growth is left to the self-correcting logic of competitive markets. In the 'Policy Reform' variant, sustainability is pursued as a proactive strategic priority.

The 'Barbarization' variants envision the grim possibility that the social, economic and moral underpinnings of civilization deteriorate, as emerging problems overwhelm the coping capacity of both markets and policy reforms. The 'Breakdown' variant leads to unbridled conflict, institutional disintegration and economic collapse. The 'Fortress World' variant features an authoritarian response to the threat of breakdown. In this scenario, ensconced in protected enclaves, élites safeguard their privileges by controlling an impoverished majority and by managing critical natural resources while, outside the fortress, there is repression, environmental destruction and misery.

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Figure 4.4: Forecast and backcast

Source: Kemp-Benedict 2001

Further reflections indicate the need to reclassify these into four distinct categories. The four categories, adopted from the GEO, are: 'Conventional Development', later renamed 'Market Forces', 'Policy Reform', 'Fortress World' and the 'Great Transitions'. These are the four scenarios that are used in the AEO. Figure 4.3 shows the sketches of the behaviour over time for six descriptive variables on these four scenarios, namely: population growth; economic scale; environmental quality; social and economic equity; technological change; and the degree of social and geopolitical conflict. The curves are intended as rough illustrations only of the possible patterns of change.

The characteristics of the four scenarios may be summarized as follows:

Scenario development proceeds in one of two directions. In the first case, one begins with the current position and then proceeds to make projections into the future. Such a strategy may be described as 'forecasting'. On the other hand, one can begin with the desirable future, and seek to manipulate variables and resources to achieve this future. Such an approach is described as 'back-casting'(see Figure 4.4). Two of the scenarios described above (the Market Forces scenario and the Fortress World scenario) may be achieved by methods of forecasting, while the other two scenarios (the Policy Reform scenario and the Great Transitions scenario) are best achieved by methods of backcasting, a procedure adopted in this study.