USS and University of Exeter develop new climate scenarios to help tackle climate change

7 Sep 2023 Business Positive
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USS and University of Exeter develop new climate scenarios to help tackle climate change

A new report, released by USS and University of Exeter today, is calling for a radical and urgent shift in the climate scenarios used by investors, governments, and businesses to address climate change.

At a time when more needs to be done to deliver Net Zero ambitions, current scenarios have significant limitations. They often understate both the economic damage of climate change and the potential benefits of action, restricting their usefulness for investment decision-making. No Time to Lose – New Scenario Narratives for Action on Climate Change presents four new climate scenarios that look at shorter term and more realistic horizons to inform investment decision making.


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The new climate scenarios, developed as part of a collaboration between USS and University of Exeter and with input from leading experts such as Mark Carney, Nicola Ranger, Nigel Topping, and Caroline Cook, better reflect the real-world risks and opportunities that frame our investment decision-making over the short and medium term. They switch the focus away from global average temperature pathways and towards the complex interplay between physical factors such as extreme weather events and human factors such as disruptions in geopolitics, economics, financial markets, and technology.


The new scenarios range from optimistic, with politics and economics working in harmony to drive rapid decarbonisation, to pessimistic, where a toxic political climate compounded by dysfunctional markets frustrates progress. They aim to present a richer, broader, and more realistic range of possible scenarios on which we can base our investment decisions.

Four New Scenarios

The four new scenarios involve different combinations of high or low policy activism and high or low market dynamism

Scenario 1: Roaring 20s – policy and markets align

Proactive climate policies and dynamic markets create powerful positive feedback loops. More extreme weather events focus minds and create a sense of global solidarity around a recognition of humanity’s mounting debt to nature. Constructive competition between nations accelerates technological progress and deployment.

Scenario 2: Green Phoenix – market-driven, while policy lags

Climate action is initially upended by stagflation, the geo-political fallout of a stalemate in Ukraine and badly-handled weather shocks. Popular anger builds and civil society gradually emboldens more enlightened businesses and local governments to step up and roll out mature green technologies, but progress is patchy and erratic.

Scenario 3: Boom and Bust – policy steps up after fossil fuel surge bursts

A Ukraine peace deal and easing of global geopolitical tension triggers an initial surge in economic growth which leads to overheating in major economies and higher fossil fuel prices. Policy is tightened in response, which leads to a bust, forcing governments to step in to provide support. A just green transition is driven by pro-active policies to ease private sector frictions and support the emerging world.

Scenario 4: Meltdown – policy failures compound weak growth

Climate policy is the casualty of mounting geopolitical tension and protracted recession. A Republican victory in the US elections is followed by Ukraine being partitioned. Tension with China undermines global decarbonisation efforts and technological progress. Extreme weather events are badly handled, triggering famines, mass migration and political instability.

More Information

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) was established in 1974 as the principal pension scheme for universities and higher education institutions in the UK. They work with around 330 employers to help build a secure financial future for 528,000 members and their families. They are one of the largest pension schemes in the UK, with total assets of around £75.5bn (at 31 March 2023).


The University of Exeter is renowned for its environmental research and education, with over 1,500 people here (including 5 of the world’s top 21 climate scientists) working to deliver game-changing solutions. Our new initiative, Green Futures Solutions, provides businesses with access to a unique range of climate and environment expertise to help organisations reach net zero, make smarter use of natural resources, and seize opportunities in the growing green economy.