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Framing climate uncertainty: socio-economic and climate scenarios in vulnerability and adaptation assessments


Scenarios have become a powerful tool in integrated assessment and policy analysis for climate change. Socio-economic and climate scenarios are often combined to assess climate change impacts and vulnerabilities across different sectors and to inform risk management strategies. Such combinations of scenarios can also play an important role in enabling the interaction between experts and other stakeholders, framing issues and providing a means for making explicit and dealing with uncertainties. Drawing on experience with the application of scenarios to climate change assessments in recent Dutch research, the paper argues that scenario approaches need to be matched to the frames of stakeholders who are situated in specific decision contexts. Differentiated approaches (top-down, bottom-up and interactive) are needed to address the different frames and decision-making contexts of stakeholders. A framework is proposed to map scenarios and decision contexts onto two dimensions: the spatial scale of the context and the starting point of approach used in scenario development (top-down, bottom-up or incident-driven). Future climate and socio-economic scenario development will be shaped by the need to become better aligned with multiple interacting uncertainties salient to stakeholders.

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  1. See for a definition of vulnerability and risks, compiled by the European Climate Adaptation Platform.

  2. By decision context, we mean the institutional setting of a decision-making process, including the actors who are involved in that process. A commission of experts developing a new national strategy for flood risk management over the next 50 years, such as the Dutch Delta Commission (2007–2008), represents a different decision context than a farmer planning what crops to grow in the coming season.

  3. By life-world, we mean the shared common understandings, including values, held by and holding together any social group (Schütz and Luckmann 1973; Habermas 1981). Life-worlds are more generic than the frames they support.


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The research reported in this paper was funded under several projects of the Climate Changes Spatial Planning (KvR) programme ( Comments from and discussions with Jaap Kwadijk, Jeroen Veraart, Alexander Bakker and (anonymous) reviewers and the editor have led to substantial improvement of this manuscript.

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Berkhout, F., van den Hurk, B., Bessembinder, J. et al. Framing climate uncertainty: socio-economic and climate scenarios in vulnerability and adaptation assessments. Reg Environ Change 14, 879–893 (2014).

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  • Climate change
  • Climate scenarios
  • Socio-economic scenarios
  • Framing
  • Uncertainty
  • Vulnerability
  • Adaptation