The first seminar in the joint SEI-Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) series Thinking Ahead took place in a packed conference room yesterday at SEI’s new Headquarters in the Garnisonen complex, Stockholm. Four experts from the two institutes presented their unique perspectives on the seminar’s fundamental question: “What can scenario methodologies tell us about the world in 2050?”. The rest of the time was given over to a lively question-and-answer session.
The first to present was Mattias Höjer of KTH. He set out some criteria developed by KTH for what constitutes future studies: they must include some description of the future, should examine and analyse either different futures or routes to a desired future, and should concern either very uncertain or undesirable futures.
In this context, Höjer explained the value of “backcasting”: “Backcasting can be an eye-opener when it comes to seeing needs and opportunities for change; it can challenge our sometimes misplaced trust in forecasts; and to can highlight conflicts between goals.”
He was followed by Henrik Carlsen of SEI, who spoke on how scenarios are used as organizing and communication tools in climate change research. Carlsen outlined the latest innovations in climate change scenario architecture coming from the IPCC, and how SEI works with scenarios, from participatory local projects to highly technical and theoretical. He proposed that one way that scenario builders can try to meaningfully represent the myriad possible futures is to construct scenarios at the extremes of the “uncertainty space” and so “span” the range of possible future developments.
Karin Bradley of KTH then introduced a new project, “Beyond GDP Growth”. This project seeks to look beyond the assumption in most sustainable development planning that GDP can and should keep rising, and instead explores scenarios under degrowth, steady-state and low growth conditions. It will seek to develop appropriate strategies for building and planning in Sweden.“There is a lack of evidence of decoupling emissions from GDP growth, once you look beyond territorial accounts and look at total impacts of consumption,” Karin observed. “What growth has been decoupled from is jobs and welfare.”
Finally, Karl Hallding of SEI talked about how subjective hopes and fears inevitably shape visions of the future. In particular, he illustrated how scenarios are at risk of being too narrowly interpreted and evaluated because of our instinct to see them in terms of “archetypal” human stories. “Life is actually a mosaic of many different realities. We should identify different futures that have normative and archetypal ingredients, but we should avoid a clear division into good and bad. We should try to make scenarios as rich and multi-faceted as we can.”
The seminar was moderated by Marie Jürisoo of SEI.
The Thinking Ahead seminar series
The Thinking Ahead seminars are intended to stimulate debate between interested experts and identify potential synergies and collaborations. They are an integral activity under the new cooperation agreement signed between SEI and KTH in January. The new extended partnership reinforces collaboration between the partners in strategic areas such as international energy and water issues, climate research, policy analysis, and international governance.
The next seminar in the series, looking at Sustainable Consumption, will take place at SEI on 22 May 2014, 8:30-10:00 (please note venue change), with coffee from 8:00.