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What are scenarios and models?

The methodological guidance presented here is based on the methodological assessment report on scenarios and models of biodiversity and ecosystem services (Deliverable 3c). Further work on scenarios and models is built on the Assessment, aiming to catalyse the further development and use of tools and methodologies on scenarios and modelling.

Scenarios are representations of possible futures for one or more components of a system, particularly, in this assessment, for drivers of change in nature and nature’s benefits, including alternative policy or management options.

Models” are qualitative or quantitative descriptions of key components of a system and of relationships between those components. The Deliverable 3c methodological assessment focuses mainly on models describing relationships between: (i) indirect and direct drivers; (ii) direct drivers and nature; and (iii) nature and nature’s benefits to people.

Scenarios and models can provide an effective means of addressing relationships between nature, nature’s benefits to people and good quality of life. Thereby adding value to the use of best available scientific, indigenous and local knowledge in assessments and decision support. Scenarios and models play complementary roles, with scenarios describing possible futures for drivers of change or policy interventions, and models translating those scenarios into projected consequences for nature and nature’s benefits to people. 

Figure SPM1: Overview of the roles that scenarios and models play in informing policy and decision making. 

The left-hand panel illustrates how scenarios and models contribute to policy and decision-making through assessments, formal decision-support tools and informal processes (boxes and grey arrows at the top). Scenarios capture different policy options being considered by decision-makers, which are then translated by models into consequences for nature, nature’s benefits to people and quality of life. The left-hand panel also emphasizes that scenarios and models are directly dependent on data and knowledge for their construction and testing and provide added value by synthesizing and organizing knowledge (box and arrow at the bottom). 

The right-hand panel provides a detailed view of the relationships between scenarios (burgundy arrows), models (blue arrows) and the key elements of the Platform’s conceptual framework (light blue boxes). Grey arrows indicate relationships that are not the main focus of the assessment. The ‘cross-sectoral integration’ element signifies that a comprehensive assessment of human wellbeing and good quality of life will often involve the integration of modelling from multiple sectors (e.g., health, education and energy) addressing a broader range of values and objectives than those associated directly with nature and nature’s benefits.

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