A scenario is a plausible description of how the future may develop based on a consistent set of assumptions about driving forces (e.g. rate of technological change, economic developments, etc). For instance, technological advancements may lead to cheaper and more efficient methods of attaining energy, reducing carbon emissions and more. Scenarios are neither predictions nor forecasts, but are useful to provide a view of the implications of alternative developments and actions.[1]

Figure 1. Example of a scenario occurring as a result of present conditions and different driving forces.[2]

Types of scenarios

See emission scenario and climate scenario for more information

Two types of scenarios relevant to energy are emission scenarios and climate scenarios.

Emission scenarios are possible future outcomes of greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from the case where society continues to emit heavily to the case where it cuts down greatly on fossil fuel use. The highest emissions pathway, otherwise called "business as usual", continues down the path of heavy fossil fuel use and has dangerous implications for the global climate. The low emission pathway cuts down on emission drastically by the year 2050, resulting in a peak and decline of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and a much safer change in climate. These pathways depend on a variety of "driving forces", including how the world population changes and how the world's energy use changes.[3]

Climate scenarios come as a result of a given emission scenario, outlining what the world's climate will look like depending on the emission scenario taken. They are determined by using certain climate models, which take the emissions into account to calculate certain effects such as global temperature increase.


  1. Verbruggen, A., W. Moomaw, J. Nyboer, 2011: Annex I: Glossary, Acronyms, Chemical Symbols and Prefixes. In IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation [O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs- Madruga, Y. Sokona, K. Seyboth, P. Matschoss, S. Kadner, T. Zwickel, P. Eickemeier, G. Hansen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  2. Created internally by a member of the Energy Education team.
  3. IPCC. (Accessed May 9, 2016). "IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios" [Online], Available: