Shared Socioeconomic Pathways

The Shared Socioeconomic Pathways are a set of five scenarios of global development that describe potential future societal and climatic conditions. The scenarios (see figure) vary in their socio-economic challenges for mitigation and adaption as explained by O’Neill et al. (2017):

  1. Sustainability: This scenario represents strong progress towards reducing fossil-fuel dependency with rapid technological changes that lower the environmental cost of growth. Low-income countries grow more rapidly, inequality between and within economies falls, technology spreads, and there is more action to reduce the environmental costs of growth. The Millennium Development Goals are achieved by 2030, resulting in educated populations with access to safe water, improved sanitation and medical care. The development of environmentally sustainable technologies, adoption of renewable energy, institutions that can facilitate international cooperation, and relatively low energy demand results in relatively low challenges to mitigation. At the same time, the improvements in human well-being, combined with strong and flexible global, regional, and national institutions imply low challenges to adaptation.
  2. Middle of the Road: This scenario is a continuation of current trends with some effort to reach development goals and reductions in resource and energy intensity. On the demand side, investments in education are not sufficient to slow rapid population growth. In this scenario, there is only intermediate success in addressing vulnerability to climate change. In this world, trends typical of recent decades
    continue, with some progress towards achieving development goals, reductions in resource and energy intensity at historic rates, and slowly decreasing fossil-fuel dependency. The development of low-income countries proceeds unevenly, with some countries making relatively good progress while others are left behind. This scenario implies moderate challenges to mitigation and adaptation, on average, but with significant heterogeneities across and within countries.
  3. Regional Rivalry: This is a degradation scenario characterised by high population growth rates and important regional differences in wealth, with pockets of wealth and regions of high poverty. Unmitigated emissions are high, and there is low adaptive capacity and a large number of people vulnerable to climate change. The impact on ecosystems is severe. The world is separated into regions of extreme poverty, moderate wealth and a middle group that is struggling to maintain living standards among a rapidly growing population. This is a world failing to achieve global development goals, and with little progress in reducing resource intensity, fossil-fuel dependency or addressing local environmental concerns such as air pollution. Growing resource intensity and fossil fuel dependency along with low international cooperation and slow technological change imply high challenges to mitigation. The limited progress on human development, slow income growth, and lack of effective international institutions implies high challenges to adaptation.
  4. Inequality: This scenario is a divided scenario with unequal investments in human capital with increasing inequalities and socioeconomic division both across and within countries. There is a large gap between an internationally-connected higher income society that is well educated, and a fragmented collection of lower-income, poorly educated societies that work in a labour intensive, low-tech economy. Power is concentrated in a relatively small political and business elite, while vulnerable groups have little representation in national and global institutions. Economic growth is moderate in industrialised and middle-income countries, while low income countries lag behind. Lower income countries are unable to provide adequate access to water, sanitation and health care for the poor. Conflict and unrest are common. Environmental policies target local issues in middle and high income areas.  The combination of some development of low carbon supply options and expertise, and a well-integrated international political and business class capable of acting quickly and decisively, implies low challenges to mitigation. However, challenges to adaptation are high for the substantial proportions of populations at low levels of development.
  5. Fossil-fueled Development: Driven by the economic success of industrialised and emerging economies, this scenario focuses on competitive markets, innovation and participatory societies to produce technological approaches to sustainable development. Global markets are integrated, with interventions focused on maintaining competition and inclusion. There are also considerable investments in health, education, and institutions to enhance human and social capital. This expansion of economic and social development results in the exploitation of fossil fuel resources. Lifestyles worldwide are resource and energy intensive ans rapid growth of the global economy occurs. While local environmental impacts are addressed effectively by technological solutions, there is minimal effort to avoid potential global environmental impacts. Global population peaks and declines in the 21st century. The strong reliance on fossil fuels and the lack of concern about the environment results in high challenges to mitigation. The attainment of human development goals, robust economic growth, and highly engineered infrastructure results in relatively low challenges to adaptation.

The climate change research community has adopted these scenarios to facilitate the integrated analysis of future climate impacts, vulnerabilities, adaptation, and mitigation.

By contributing to work by Fricko et al. (2017) we quantify the Shared Socioeconomic Pathway 2: The middle of the road pathway.

Contact Mario Herrero for more information.