Scenario workshop on the future Barents Sea

Benjamin Planque
Institute of Marine Research

“Future thinking” is a topic that has received increasing attention in recent decades. A variety of methods exist to think about the future. One of the methods most familiar to the community of natural scientists is based on numerical model simulations. The scenario method is a complementary approach that has been an integral part of the framework of “future studies” or “futurology” for more than 50 years.

Scenario building is not about predicting, but about exploring. Scenarios explore multiple futures, from the expected to the wildcard, in forms that are analytically coherent and imaginatively engaging. Thinking about the future is both universal (everyone thinks about the future) and personal (everyone thinks about it in their own way). Scenario workshops allows scientists and non-scientists (managers, stakeholders) to confront their perspectives about the future. Such workshops can be used as a platform to engage parties into a constructive dialogue and reflect together about potential threats and adaptations to cope with uncertain futures.

Following the stakeholder workshop on the future Barents Sea, risks, mitigation and adaptation options, a second scenario workshop was organized in October 2019 in order to allow Nansen Legacy scientists to jointly explore possible futures. Particular attention was paid to discuss unexpected vs. expected futures, to specify desired vs. undesired futures and to highlight how the research conducted in the Nansen Legacy can contribute to the domains of interest identified earlier by the stakeholders, which include biological production, biodiversity, seasonality, species spatial distribution, conflicts of access to resources, ecosystem vulnerability and geopolitics.

Of the about 70 participating Nansen Legacy researchers, 72% think that in 30 years from now, the Barents Sea will not function as it does today, but at the same time, most believe that we can anticipate the changes (45% of total respondents). The vulnerability of the Barents Sea is perceived as increasing by 61% and decreasing by 2% while 13% think it is not changing very much and 24% think it is not measurable. Respondents are fairly confident about future increases in human activities, pollution (of various kinds), temperature, sea-ice loss and changes in species composition. A number of events that could possibly alter the future of the Barents Sea were suggested, including oil exploitation accidents, species invasions, radioactive incidents, political incidents and technological inventions.