Multiple visions of the future and major environmental scenarios
Scientific programming in environmental science often relies on short-term (3 to 5 years) trend-based projections for contextual elements like the demography or the economy to construct or justify its choice of priorities. However, this approach does not take into account numerous factors of change or disruption over a longer term (10 to 20, or even 50 years), although a decade or two are needed to effectively deal with the stakes of research. These stakes become more acute over the long term, as consequences of predicted changes (e. g. climate) or other factors such as pollution, biodiversity erosion, reduction of ecosystemic services.... This complex question justifies turning to a foresight approach. Because it enables tipping points to be envisaged for some key variables of the system studied (in this case, the environment), the scenario method seems well adapted to proposing several contrasting visions of the future.. The research question is: how a large screening of international studies on environmental scenarios can help framing the reflection on research priorities about environment? To help take its strategic reflection forward, in June 2015 the French national research alliance for the environment (AllEnvi) commissioned its transversal foresight group to identify the major families of scenarios described in foresight studies dealing with the environment since 2000. The summary of the 307 scenarios produced by analyzing 99 international studies highlighted 11 possible societal and environmental pathways. Analyzing these families of scenarios thus makes it easier to clarify the multiple roles that science can play, according to contrasting dynamics. Consequently, this study shows how a systematic review of foresight studies and their related visions of the future of environment can stimulate and enlighten the reflection on the ways societies can (re)define their future, by combining environmental, governance and social sciences.