The future holds more surprises than science and modelling can predict! Come to this interactive ECCA session to find out how foresight can help to prepare for both climate change and other natural disasters.

Blog by Guillaume Rohat (

Vulnerability to climate change results from the combination of both climatic and socioeconomic conditions. How can we deal with these risks and reduce future vulnerability? And not only now, but also in the future: the risk of weather-related disasters will not remain the same but will be altered by climate change! Furthermore, we must not only explore climate change threats but also the implications of socioeconomic development on future vulnerability.

Climate modelers have worked hard in the past few decades to provide more and more precise long-term climate predictions. For many users this suggests higher accuracy, but these are still predictions based on scenarios with many uncertainties. Much less has been done to develop scenarios for future socioeconomic conditions. These are equally important for future risks. How will income differences develop? How will ageing affect vulnerability? Will health inequalities decrease? Will everyone have access to higher education? Will warning systems be efficient? Will urban planning be climate hazards-proof? The scientific community is trying to answer these questions through the use of a specific set of socioeconomic scenarios, but these fall short in picturing the wide range of potential futures, and many features and surprise events cannot easily be envisioned and modelled. We argue that this quantitative analysis is useful, but also insufficient to capture the full spectrum of possible futures that is relevant for climate and disaster risk response. Let us elaborate this view.

A wider set of foresight approaches, based on creative and collaborative thinking, should be used to enhance these existing socioeconomic scenarios. While model-based scenarios are mainly developed by experts, other foresight methods allow for the involvement of a wide group of stakeholders and their experiences, wisdom and creativity. Such approaches enable to include wildcards and to consider surprises events (e.g., who could, one year ago, predict the outcome of some recent presidential elections?). In brief, it allows thinking outside of the box and complementing traditional IPCC-like quantitative modeling exercises.

The Paris Agreement (UNFCCC COP21) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction provide the political context for the proposed foresight work – they emphasize the need to support long-term risk and response analyses. We designed this foresight session to explore the potential of different foresight approaches to strengthen climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR) in terms of science, policy, and practice as well as to investigate implications of the global agreements for European, national, and local action. In this context, this session will:

  • Explore the potential role of foresight to inform and connect the implementation of the UNFCCC adaptation and Sendai disaster risk reduction mechanisms;
  • Identify relevant long-term trends and socioeconomic developments which would have significant implications for DRR and CCA;
  • Explore the needs and priorities of CCA, DRR, sustainable development, and other relevant communities with respect to foresight approaches.

After a short introduction, the foresight session will start with a plenary presentation about the implications of (global) megatrends and surprise events for CCA and DRR. A second plenary presentation will scrutinize the utility of backcasting foresight methods to design future-proof and climate resilient infrastructures at the local scale. The session then moves to a world café setting with an interactive discussion around three pragmatic reflections:

  • What are current examples where foresight was used to develop joint CCA-DRR methods and tools?
  • What would a good foresight-driven method that joins CCA-DRR look like?
  • How can foresight support identification of future research priorities in both CCA and DRR?

Session 2.5: Foresight in Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction
Chairs: Rob Swart and Markus Leitner
Tuesday 11:00-12:45, Alsh 2

  1. Introduction (Rob Swart, Wageningen UR)
  2. What can foresight bring to the adaptation table – megatrends and surprises (Guillaume Rohat (UNIGE) and Rob Swart)
  3. Foresight in action: Considering climate change impacts in the project planning practice in Austria – Scenario techniques and backcasting (Markus Leitner, Environment Agency Austria)
  4. Interactive discussion (Tiago Capela Lourenço, University of Lisbon)