SENSES Toolkit for Climate Change Adaptation

Submitted by Emil Beddari | published 8th Dec 2020 | last updated 19th Feb 2021

Climate Adaptation Training Annotation

  • Level: Introductory through to Advanced
  • Time commitment: Range of resources with differing time commitments
  • Learning product: Toolkit
  • Sector:  Multi-sector
  • Language: English
  • Certificate available: No

Introduction

The SENSES Toolkit is a unique collection of user-centred visualization tools of climate change scenario knowledge. It includes tools to learn about the scenario approach and its key insights, tools to explore climate change scenarios, and practical guidelines of how to use climate change scenarios for three key user groups (finance, policy and regional decision makers). It builds on co-production techniques of relevant and useful climate change scenario knowledge.

Climate Change is an interconnected socio-environmental challenge; image showing circle of agentic forcing
Climate change and socioeconomic development are deeply intertwined

Background

To make climate scenarios work for decision-makers, an international team of researchers developed a comprehensive interactive online platform. It is the first of its kind to provide the tools to use those scenarios – from climate impacts to mitigation and energy options – to a broader public beyond science. The scenarios help policy makers and businesses, finance actors and civil society alike to assess the threat of global warming and ways to limit it.

We can’t predict the future, but scenarios allow us to explore possible futures, the assumptions they depend upon, and the courses of action that could bring them about

The aim of SENSES is to provide tools for better assessment and application of climate change scenario knowledge. The interactive approach aims to connect users to the original scenario data and to minimize the risk that the extracted information is misinterpreted and/or perceived as intransparent. Thus, an essential objective of SENSES is that the developed tools are understandable, accessible, trustworthy, and useful for the stakeholders.

Why focus on climate change scenarios?

Although we know that global warming is happening today and already has an impact on nature and human society, its most wide-ranging consequences lie in the future. Human-made climate change is driven by a myriad of societal factors over decades and centuries to come. The future development of most of these factors is deeply uncertain and will be shaped by our actions. It is thus futile to ask “What will happen?” and try to predict future climate change. But the future, while inherently uncertain, is not entirely unknowable. Scenarios can be used to explore “What can happen?” and even “What should happen?” given the fact that we are able to shape our future.

Scenarios are used in pairs or larger sets to contrast different futures and choices. For example, scenario-driven climate policy analysis relies on comparing a projection without policy intervention (typically called baseline scenario) with a pathway towards a desired goal (e.g., the 2 °C goal).

Graph showing different emission scenarios for EU28
Scenarios enable better planning toward specific desired outcomes, such as net-zero

Three levels of engagement within the SENSES Toolkit

  1. Key insights: e.g. a finance expert who wants to assess the potential of stranded assets in the fossil fuel industry would be interested to see how rapidly global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to keep warming below the internationally agreed limit of 1.5-2°C. This user can check out the emissions gap learning module on the SENSES platform which gives basic information as well as graphics and links to literature.
  2. Further exploration: to further explore the details, the user can go to what the researchers call a Guided Exploration Module (GEM). “The GEMs provide a soft landing in the data and allow users to develop key insights from analyzing the scenarios themselves”, explains project coordinator Cornelia Auer, also from PIK. “They can understand robust trends, like a coal-exit or the decarbonization of electricity, but also variations in the scenarios like the influence of technologies such as carbon dioxide removal.”
  3. For those interested in going even further: users can browse through a large set of scenarios in the Scenario Finder that they filter according to their assumptions about the future. Those who think that removing carbon from the atmosphere in the future is unlikely to work can filter scenarios with a lower amount of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), whereas those who want low final energy use and still a well below 2°C scenario can filter for these characteristics.

Institutional background and trainers

The SENSES project (climate change ScENario ServicES) is part of the official European Research Area for Climate Services, supported by national ministries and the EU. It is a collaborative project of PIK, Fachhochschule Potsdam, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Wageningen University (WUR) and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).

Key partners

  • Elmar Kriegler, PI, PIK. 
  • Cornelia Auer, Project leader, PIK. 
  • Volker Krey, Energy Program Deputy Director at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).
  • Boris Müller from the Interaction Design Lab of Fachhochschule Potsdam.
  • Henrik Carlsen, Senior Research Fellow, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI).
  • Kasper Kok, Simona Pedde and Lotte de Jong from Wageningen University and Research.

Who is this for?

The primary audience for this open-data toolkit are:

  • finance, policy and regional decision makers
  • policy makers and businesses, finance actors and civil society actors

Learning Material

The SENSES Toolkit currently has 15 Learn Modules, 5 GEMs collections, and 3 Explore Modules, with more modules to be added in the coming months. The modules can be explored in any order, but if you are new to climate scenarios, the Primer module is a good place to start. Read an overview of the SENSES Climate Change Scenario Primer.

Learn Modules

Primer to Climate Scenarios: This interactive primer gives an introduction to what climate change scenarios are and how they are connected to socioeconomics, energy & land use, emissions, climate change and climate impacts.

Transition Risks (4 modules)

  • Preamble: the transition towards a low carbon future requires large changes in the production, conversion and use of energy. This is the preamble to our three modules, that guide you through the main risks related to this transition.
  • Chapter 1: Fossil Fuel Risks: in this module we show the risks associated with investing in the fossil fuel sector to explain why investors should consider climate policy in their decisions.
  • Chapter 2: Power Sector Risks: in this module we explore the risks and opportunities that result from the decarbonization of the power sector and we explain why investors should take climate policy into account in their decision-making. We will explore the changes in electricity production and revenue, the changing risk structure of the power sector, the risk of fuel costs and emission costs, and the need for clean investments.
  • Chapter 3: End-use Risks: the end-use sector goes through a transition from carbon-emitting fuels towards cleaner fuels that don’t emit CO2. In this module we explore the risks and opportunities that result from this shift.

Co-production Techniques (3 modules)

  • Co-Production Techniques: in this module, we illustrate how to use co-production techniques to start or develop adaptation planning given different stages of the policy cycle.
  • A River of Information for Adaptation: in this module, we illustrate how co-production techniques can be applied in combination with socioeconomic and impact scenarios to develop adaptation pathways for a climate robust and CO₂-neutral landscape. We demonstrate this process with the case study of the Dutch Overijsselse Vecht.
  • Co-producing Multi-Scale Scenarios for Adaptation: in this module, we show how co-production techniques can be applied to developing socio-economic scenarios and adaptation options and strategies in sub-global impact, adaptation, and vulnerability studies. We demonstrate this process in a case study focused on Kenya.

Decabonisation and Net-Zero (4 modules)

  • Net-Zero Pathways for Industrialized Countries: industrialized countries need to move towards net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050. But, how can they achieve this? Here, we show simulation results that outline possible mitigation pathways towards net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 for the EU, Japan, Australia and the US.
  • Towards an Electric Future: we cannot predict the future, but we can create different plausible scenarios of how a future decarbonization pathway could look like. In this module you will be introduced to the concept of Electrification and to the broad strategy to go Carbon Neutral by reducing emissions.
  • Closing the Emissions Gap: this module explores how current decarbonization plans until 2030 relate to the long-term targets of the Paris Agreement.
  • Investment Opportunities and Alignment: what are near-time investment requirements for meeting stringent climate targets in a low carbon world?

Emissions, Events and Land-Use (3 modules)

  • Extreme Events: climate change makes extreme events more frequent and more severe. This module investigates how exposure to crop failures, river floods, tropical cyclones, heatwaves, wildfires, and droughts changes with rising temperature levels.
  • The Role of Land for Food Production and Climate Protection: current land-use practices accelerate climate change. Mitigation strategies like afforestation and BECCS increase the demand for land, which puts food security and biodiversity at risk. Is it possible to reach the Paris Agreement goals without major trade-offs?
  • A Brief History of CO2 Emissions: greenhouse gas emissions are one of the driving forces behind climate change. In our short film “A Brief History of CO2 Emissions”, we visualize the geographic distribution and the historic dimension of carbon dioxide emissions.

Guided Exploration Modules (GEMs)

GEMs allow users to analyze the climate scenarios through an intuitive user interface, generating graphs and data which can be exported for use in your own research projects. The GEMs are organised in five collections:

  • Emissions Gap
  • Transition Risk
  • Towards an Electric Future
  • Net Zero Pathways for Industrialized Countries
  • The Role of Land

Explore modules

  • Senses Earth: discover how the world could be affected by extreme events at different global warming levels.
  • Scenario Finder: this explore module allows you to quickly filter all avialable scenarios from the IAMC 1.5 database
  • Co-production Techniques Finder: how can we do co-production? The co-production database provides an overview of different methods and tools for specific co-production objectives.

Learning Outcomes

Philipp Haenle, economist in the Financial Stability Department of Germany’s Bundesbank, comments: “Climate-related risks for financial markets are getting more and more attention. Climate scenarios can help to gather an understanding of these risks. For a financial economist, however, getting familiar with climate scenarios designed by natural scientists and using them for financial analyses is a highly complex task. SENSES is a very seminal tool as it can help to understand the underlying climate scenarios as well as to use them to assess potential risks to the financial system. Finally, the tool provides guidance on the most suitable scenarios for specific research questions.” (Haenle has been involved in the science-stakeholder co-design of the SENSES platform. The statement represents a personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of Deutsche Bundesbank or its staff.)

Further resources

  • The database that informs the SENSES scenarios is accessible through the Scenario Explorer hosted by the IIASA. It presents an ensemble of quantitative, model-based climate change mitigation pathways underpinning the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C (SR15) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in 2018. The ensemble was also used and extended in the IPCC's Special Report on Climate Change and Land (SRCCL, 2019).