Advances in the science and observation of climate change are providing a clearer understanding of the inherent variability of Earth’s climate system and its likely response to human and natural influences. The implications of climate change for the environment and society will depend not only on the response of the Earth system to changes in radiative forcings, but also on how humankind responds through changes in technology, economies, lifestyle and policy. Extensive uncertainties exist in future forcings of and responses to climate change, necessitating the use of scenarios of the future to explore the potential consequences of different response options. To date, such scenarios have not adequately examined crucial possibilities, such as climate change mitigation and adaptation, and have relied on research processes that slowed the exchange of information among physical, biological and social scientists. Here we describe a new process for creating plausible scenarios to investigate some of the most challenging and important questions about climate change confronting the global community.

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The authors acknowledge the following individuals for their contributions: L. Arris, M. Babiker, F. Birol, P. Bosch, O. Boucher, S. Brinkman, E. Calvo, I. Elgizouli, L. Erda, J. Feddema, A. Garg, A. Gaye, M. Ibarraran, E. La Rovere, B. Metz, R. Jones, J. Kelleher, J. F. Lamarque, B. Matthews, L. Meyer, B. O’Neill, S. Nishioka, R. Pichs, H. Pitcher, P. Runci, D. Shindell, P. R. Shukla, A. Snidvongs, P. Thornton, J. P. van Ypersele, V. Vilariño and M. Zurek.

Author Contributions R.H.M. is coordinating lead author of the paper. J.A.E., K.A.H., M.R.M., S.K.R. and D.P.v.V. are principal co-authors of the paper. All others are co-authors. Authors are drawn from the integrated assessment modelling and climate modelling communities, and from the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability research communities; all contributed important inputs to the process.

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  1. Joint Global Change Research Institute, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory/University of Maryland, 5825 University Research Court, Suite 3500, College Park, Maryland 20740, USA

    • Richard H. Moss
    • , Jae A. Edmonds
    • , Steven J. Smith
    •  & Allison M. Thomson
  2. National Center for Atmospheric Research, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, 1850 Table Mesa Drive, Boulder, Colorado 80305, USA

    • Kathy A. Hibbard
    •  & Gerald A. Meehl
  3. New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand

    • Martin R. Manning
  4. Electric Power Research Institute, 2000 L Street NW, Suite 805, Washington DC 20036, USA

    • Steven K. Rose
  5. Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Postbus 303, 3720 AH Bilthoven, The Netherlands

    • Detlef P. van Vuuren
    •  & Tom Kram
  6. Finnish Environment Institute, Box 140, Mechelininkatu 34a, Helsinki 00251, Finland

    • Timothy R. Carter
  7. National Institute for Environmental Studies, 16-2, Onogawa, Tsukuba 305-8506, Japan

    • Seita Emori
    •  & Mikiko Kainuma
  8. Met Office, Fitzroy Road, Exeter, Devon EX1 3PB, UK

    • John F. B. Mitchell
  9. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Schlossplatz 1, A-2361 Laxenburg, Austria

    • Nebojsa Nakicenovic
    •  & Keywan Riahi
  10. Vienna University of Technology, Karlsplatz 13, A-1040 Vienna, Austria

    • Nebojsa Nakicenovic
  11. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Princeton, New Jersey 08542, USA

    • Ronald J. Stouffer
  12. Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • John P. Weyant
  13. Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, Tennessee 37831, USA

    • Thomas J. Wilbanks


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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Richard H. Moss.

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    Supplementary Information

    This supplementary file contains an expanded version of the timeline ‘some notable developments and international applications of scenarios in climate research’ which is shown in figure 1 of the main paper and Supplementary References.

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