The Beginner’s Guide to Representative Concentration Pathways

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Wayne, Graham
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Many factors have to be taken into account when trying to predict how future global warming will contribute to climate change. The amount of future greenhouse gas emissions is a key variable. Developments in technology, changes in energy generation and land use, global and regional economic circumstances and population growth must also be considered.

So that research between different groups is complementary and comparable, a standard set of scenarios are used to ensure that starting conditions, historical data and projections are employed consistently across the various branches of climate science.

In Part 1 of this guide we explore their historical background, explain why scenarios are necessary, and who uses them. Readers already familiar with the background may wish to skip this section.

Part 2 starts with an examination of the demand for new scenarios, and why they were deemed necessary. The aims and requirements of stakeholders are described, how the development teams were selected, and the process by which the RCPs were created, checked and validated.

In Part 3 we take a look at the scenarios in detail, consider the technical aspects, the differences between the four RCPs, and how they compare to earlier SRES scenarios.


Wayne, G. 2013. The Beginner’s Guide to Representative Concentration Pathways. Skeptical Science. Retrieved from

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