Enabling Politically Sensitive Climate Change Impact Assessments for the 21st Century (POLIMPACT)

Led by Halvard Buhaug

Oct 2022 – Oct 2027

POLIMPACT aim to imagine how countries will develop over the next 80 years across the dimensions of governance, armed conflict, and economic development, in the form of qualitative narratives and quantitative projections. We do not aim to forecast the future, but rather to provide empirically grounded and rigorously validated potential futures that can be used to explore consequences of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change and the consequences of climate change on societal outcomes. Such explorations should aim to be policy relevant – i.e., relate back to choices we have today.

It can be difficult to imagine how the world will look like 100 years into the future. Jean-Marc Côté got commissioned in 1899 by a company to draw cards imagining how the future would look like in year 2000. The cards won a renewed interest after Isaac Asimov published the book “Futuredays: A Nineteenth Century Vision of the Year 2000” in 1986 commenting on Jean-Marc’s predictions. The pictures are highly imaginative (look here for more), conjuring images of new technologies, new possibilities from technology and outlining how society might deal with future challenges. Populating the ocean was perhaps seen as a solution to support a growing population and the Malthusian threat? Yet, the pictures are still more familiar to a Parisian in 1899 than they are to anyone living in the world today.

Our narratives and projections will take as point of departure the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways, which are narratives meant to support the imagination of researchers and policymakers exploring future challenges to climate mitigation and climate adaptation into the next century. The special section in Volume 42 of Global Environmental Change reports both on the qualitative narratives, but also on quantitative GDP, population, urbanization, education, energy, land use, and air pollution projections made to fit the SSP narratives. Many of the quantifications can be downloaded from the SSP Database hosted by IIASA.

While these quantifications are good starting points for imagining possible futures, they have certain limitations. In Buhaug and Vestby (2019), we discuss the absence of growth disruptions in the GDP projections available in the SSP framework, common causes of growth disruptions historically (armed conflict, commodity price shocks, and absence of democracy), and the consequences it has particularly for future scenarios in countries with a historical high probability of growth disruptions (e.g., the possibility that we could be underestimating the human and material cost of climate change, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable societies).

We aim to produce several models of governance, armed conflict, and economic development where the modelled interdependency between each element varies and where we include different mechanisms or operationalizations of mechanisms.

This 5-year project is funded by an ERC Advanced Grant.
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