In this study, we present and apply an interdisciplinary approach that systematically draws qualitative insights from socio-technical transition studies to develop new quantitative scenarios for integrated assessment modelling. We identify the transition narrative as an analytical bridge between socio-technical transition studies and integrated assessment modelling.

Conceptual interaction is realized through the development of two contrasting transition narratives on the role of actors in meeting the European Unions’ 80% greenhouse gas emission reduction objective for 2050. The first transition narrative outlines how large-scale innovation trajectories are driven by incumbent actors, whereas the second transition narrative assumes more “alternative” strategies by new entrants with strong opposition to large-scale technologies.

We use the multi-level perspective to draw out plausible storylines on actor positioning and momentum of change for several technological and social niche-innovations in both transition narratives. These storylines are then translated into quantitative scenarios for integrated assessment modelling.

Although both developed transition pathways align with the European Union’s low-carbon objective for 2050, we find that each pathway depicts a substantial departure from systems that are known to date. Future research could focus on further systematic (joint) development of operational links between the two analytical approaches, as well as work on improved representation of demand-oriented solutions in techno-economic modelling.