IEA Training Manual - Module 6

4.2 Medium-term regional and global scenarios – The UNEP GEO-3 and GEO-4 Scenarios

The development of the scenarios for UNEP’s third Global Environment Outlook (GEO-3) has been described in detail by Bakkes and others (2004); these in turn formed the foundation for the scenarios of GEO-4. The scenarios were built on existing and ongoing exercises, in particular the work of the Global Scenario Group (Raskin and others 2002) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2000). A key aspect of both the GEO-3 and GEO-4 processes was that, although global in extent, each scenario was developed at regional and sub-regional levels (using UNEP’s regions and sub-regions, see The scenarios were to be developed using a holistic approach that included all aspects of sustainable development, but offered an environmental window by emphasizing environmental descriptions and policies. The narratives included the current state and trends, drivers, a story line into the future, and a vision of the future. The GEO-3 scenarios used a 30-year time period (i.e., 2002–32), which was then extended to 2050 for GEO-4. The categories of drivers were: institutions and socio-political frameworks; demographics; economic demand, markets and trade; sceintific and technological innovation; and value systems.

The scenarios were developed through series of meetings that elaborated the scenario narratives, complemented by and integrated multi-model exercise that produced quantitative data. The resulting four scenarios were named Markets First, Policy First, Security First and Sustainability First, emphasizing the key underlying societal focus in each case.
Markets First. the private sector, with active government support, pursues maximum economic growth as the best path to improve the environment and human well-being. Lip service is paid to the ideals of the Brundtland Commission, Agenda 21 and other major policy decisions on sustainable development. There is a narrow focus on the sustainability of markets rather than on the broader human-environment system. Technological fixes to environmental challenges are emphasized at the expense of other policy interventions and some tried-and-tested solutions.

Policy First. government, with active private and civil sector support, initiates and implements strong policies to improve the environment and human well-being, while still emphasizing economic development. Policy First introduces some measures aimed at promoting sustainable development, but the tensions between environment and economic policies are biased towards social and economic considerations. Still, it brings the idealism of the Brundtland Commission to overhauling the environmental policy process at different levels, including efforts to implement the recommendations and agreements of the Rio Earth Summit, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), and the Millennium Summit. The emphasis is on more top-down approaches, due in part to desires to make rapid progress on key targets.

Security First. government and private sector compete for control in efforts to improve, or at least maintain, human well-being for mainly the rich and powerful in society. Security First, which could also be described as Me First, has as its focus a minority: rich, national and regional. It emphasizes sustainable development only in the context of maximizing access to and use of the environment by the powerful. Contrary to the Brundtland doctrine of interconnected crises, responses under Security First reinforce the silos of management, and the UN role is viewed with suspicion, particularly by some rich and powerful segments of society.

Sustainability First. government, civil society and the private sector work collaboratively to improve the environment and human well-being, with a strong emphasis on equity. Equal weight is given to environmental and socio-economic policies, and accountability, transparency and legitimacy are stressed across all actors. As in Policy First, it brings the idealism of the Brundtland Commission to overhauling the environmental policy process at different levels, including strong efforts to implement the recommendations and agreements of the Rio Earth Summit, WSSD, and the Millennium Summit. Emphasis is placed on developing effective public-private sector partnerships not only in the context of projects but also that of governance, ensuring that stakeholders across the spectrum of the environmentdevelopment discourse provide strategic input to policy making and implementation. There is an acknowledgement that these processes take time, and that their impacts are likely to be more longterm than short-term.

Box 2: GEO scenarios

Previous editions of GEO also included scenario work. In GEO-1 (UNEP 1997) and the accompanying technical report (UNEP/RIVM 1997) a single “business as usual” scenario was analysed, portraying the effect of a further convergence of the world’s regions towards Western-style production, consumption and resource management. Rudimentary estimates of the effect of applying best available technology to all investments gradually over all regions was also considered, though not in a fully integrated fashion. GEO-2000 (UNEP 1999) continued with the baseline and variant approach, but shifted focus towards more region-specific analyses of alternative policies. Each region considered a specific issue, for example freshwater in West Asia, urban air quality in Asia and the Pacific, and forests in Latin America and the Caribbean. A six-step methodology was followed in these studies and described in a technical report (UNEP/RIVM 1999).

At least two other studies have produced scenarios in recent years that are similar to those in GEO-3 in terms of their spatial and temporal scope. The scenarios of the Global Scenarios Group (Raskin and others 2002) represented the starting point for the GEO-3 and GEO-4 scenarios. As part of the World Water Vision exercise, three scenarios were developed focusing on issues surrounding freshwater availability (Cosgrove and Rijsberman 2000). Finally, a set of four scenarios was developed as part of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA 2005b).


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The example for the medium term scenario described the theories of the 4 types of scenarios used in GEO 3. However, it is important also to illustrate concrete results of applying the different types of scenarios and what was the outcome of it. this would be useful to link the theory with concrete examples.