Introduction to Decision Making Using Climate Scenarios

Time to completion
2 min


As our climate continues to change, we need to make decisions and design for an uncertain future. Climate projections based on a variety of scenarios can help in that process. A scenario is a postulated course of events. It is not a prediction.

Scenarios are used in a wide variety of planning activities, from infrastructure design to health care, because they enable planners to consider a range of possible futures and minimize risk. For the same reasons, emissions scenarios are used in climate models.

Choosing what emissions scenarios to examine depends on a variety of factors. In many situations, it makes sense to “stress test” a system by looking at the highest plausible scenario. As experience with various crises demonstrates, preparing for low-probability, high-impact, worst-case scenarios is just smart planning.

The three RCPs – Representative Concentration Pathways – illustrate three levels of warming and their impacts. Comparing impacts from the lowest and highest of these helps us understand the choices that will determine our future.

For any questions about using climate data and information, please contact the Climate Services Support Desk.