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Scenarios Forum 2019

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Pardee Institute for International Futures

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From March 11 through 13, 300 researchers, policy-makers, foundation representatives, and business leaders from 41 countries convened at the University of Denver and the Josef Korbel School of International Studies for Scenarios Forum 2019, a meeting on scenarios for climate and societal futures hosted by the Korbel School’s Frederick S. Pardee Center for International Futures and the International Committee on New Integrated Climate change assessment Scenarios (ICONICS). Scenarios outlined by Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) and Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) formed the backbone of the discussion, but this interdisciplinary meeting brought together communities using those scenarios and others as basis for research and policy-making related to the future of our planet.

The goal of the meeting was threefold: to bring people together from different disciplines and communities using or developing scenarios; to take stock of how well the current scenarios are working; and to facilitate a link between the research and assessment communities that both use the scenarios, albeit to different ends, in their work. In addition to plenary sessions and dinners that brought all participants together, the Forum offered a series of discussions on topics ranging from governance to geoengineering to the state of the oceans, all presenting research related to the scenarios.

Professor Brian O’Neill, Director of Research at the Pardee Center and Chair of the Forum’s steering committee, says the meeting was particularly successful in uniting people from different disciplines who might never have otherwise connected, laying the groundwork for future collaboration. “There was a small existing community already, but this meeting really accelerated its growth and brought many new people together who don’t often mix.”

And he was encouraged by the cohesiveness of the meeting, despite the wide range of topics: “People found pretty much every presentation that they went to very interesting. But we also encouraged sessions to devote a lot of time to discussion, and to discuss not just the topic at hand but its relation to the themes of the meeting, which were the scenarios being used, whether they were working well, and what needed to be done to improve them.”

What’s next, he says, is synthesizing the feedback from the meeting and adjusting scenarios so that they better fulfill research needs. “We need to make the scenarios more suitable to looking at questions that go beyond climate change to other development challenges,” he says. What’s also clear is that this meeting will continue to happen at regular intervals, in various locations around the world, as more parties use the scenarios to answer big questions about the future impact of climate change.

The Scenarios Forum is an excellent example of DU’s leadership in research that connects academia with decision-makers on the ground, said Corinne Lengsfeld, Vice Provost of Research and Graduate Education, at the opening plenary session. “Over the last five years, we’ve nearly doubled research volume [at DU], and that research collaborates directly with the community,” she said.

And it goes to the broader Korbel mission, too: “Korbel excels at bringing together interdisciplinary approaches to solving the world’s complicated problems, both quantitative and qualitative,” said Acting Dean Pardis Mahdavi. “We’re asking, what does a school of international affairs look like in the 21st century? The Scenarios Forum is an example of that.”