Scenario Planning for Climate Change Adaptation

BLOG POST | Oct 14, 2015

In a recent blog post from New Security Beat Steven Gale and Rik Williams discuss the concept of scenario planning as it relates to development work and, in particular, what USAID is doing to make its Missions and other agency units more adaptive. The post cites the growing complexity of the development space, the rise in uncertainty around the world, and the preparedness and response shortfalls for and to natural disasters as drivers for the trend of using scenario planning. It is a powerful tool that is under-utilized in the development community but, interestingly, one that is often used by the programs this community supports.

Because scenario planning plays a big role in many of the CityLinks Climate Adaptation Partnerships, I've pulled a couple excerpts from the blog to explain a bit about the subject.

What is scenario planning?

Scenario planning systematically looks at existing and emerging trends and their plausible – though sometimes unlikely – combinations in order to reduce risk. It’s an exercise that does not produce single point predictions, but examines a range of possible situations to help prepare for the unexpected.

How do you choose which scenario's are worth using as part of a decision-making strategy?

The following criteria can help winnow down the number of scenarios to something that’s useful and implementable:

  • Plausible – Is the scenario and its underlying pathways possible, based on current knowledge?
  • Consistent – Are the pathways leading to the future outcome logical and not mutually incongruous or conflicting?
  • Comprehensible – Can the scenario be easily understood and sufficiently detailed while not being overly complex?
  • Distinct – Is the scenario clearly discernible from others with little or no overlap in understanding?
  • Transparent – How well does the scenario fit together when all the assumptions and decisions are made available to someone not part of the original formulation?
  • Visual/Narrative – How well does the scenario lend itself to “seeing a picture,” moving beyond just manipulating data to creating a distinct scenario label?

Why is scenario planning so important to climate change adaptation?

According to Jim Hetzel, an urban planner for the city of Fort Lauderdale Florida, "planning for climate change and sea level rise presents unique challenges to urban planners. Traditionally, planners focus on planning policies to accommodate future growth by land use categories, population trends, preservation of resources, transportation needs, and open space; just to name a few. Climate adaptation planning creates a whole new approach to evaluating impacts from climate change, and utilizes proactive and reactive strategies to minimize impact, reduce risk, and identify areas sustainable for future growth."

Hetzel was part of the resource team for the Citylinks Legazpi City-Fort Lauderdale Climate Change Partnership where scenario planning for sea level rise and other climate-related impacts was a crucial part of the technical assistance Legazpi City received. You can learn more about Jim and his team's experience here and here.


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