Future Climate Scenarios

Changes in climate over the next century are likely to be driven by human activities, specifically greenhouse gas emissions. While we cannot predict how society will change in terms of energy production, population growth, and economic activity in response to social and political factors over the coming century, several potential pathways have been developed to account for the range of possibilities in our future. The net changes, primarily manifested through changes in greenhouse gas concentrations can be summarized by the additional amount of energy trapped within the Earth-Atmosphere system by 2100 in units of watts per meter square. The Fifth Assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summarized these future scenarios using something called Representative Concentration Pathways, or RCPs.

​While a broader range of scenarios exist, our products focus on two RCPs:

  • High Emissions Scenario (RCP 8.5) considers the current trajectory of increased greenhouse gas emissions and population growth through the end of the century with nominal policies to reduce emissions.
  • Low Emissions Scenario (RCP 4.5) considers a curtailment in greenhouse gas emissions through greenhouse gas mitigation efforts.