The future of our deltas

Future climate and socio-economic scenarios

The future development and vulnerability of deltas depend on changes in human and climate drivers and pressures which play on a global scale and are highly uncertain. It is increasingly urgent to understand the impact of these drivers to be able to develop effective, flexible and integrated strategies to mitigate and adapt to these changes in the short and long term (Storyline: Pathways of delta development). 

Delta scenarios logo, from one point to several possible futures

Deltas as key places

On the other hand, delta-level processes also have an impact that goes beyond the boundaries of the delta system itself because of their high population densities and economic and agricultural development. Murray Scown, researcher on coupled environmental and social systems, explains that future research must therefore consider the social and ecological components of deltas in a global context. These areas will, to a large extent, determine the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, and therefore ultimately the future sustainability of the planet.

We assess the future of deltas by using scenarios

Hans Middelkoop, leader of the Water, Climate and Future Deltas hub, explains, “We assess the future of deltas and explore how human and climate drivers may develop in the coming decades and centuries by using scenarios". These scenarios are primarily derived from two IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) frameworks: RCP (Representative Concentration Pathways) and SSP (Shared Socioeconomic Pathways). These frameworks provide projections of future global climate and sea level and the underlying socio-economic drivers, respectively. Researchers at the hub have translated these into regional scenarios for deltas to account for the delta-specific context. 

Graph of carbon dioxide emissions for 5 different SSP-RCP combinations
Annual anthropogenic C02-emissions over the period 2015-2000 under five SSP-RCP scenarios. Source: IPCC (2021)

SSP-RCP scenarios 

Researchers at the hub have also contributed to the development of the most recent projections of greenhouse gas emissions, climate change and sea level rise in the IPCC Sixth Assessment report, which uses five combinations of SSP and RCP scenarios (SSP1-1.9, SSP1-2.6, SSP2-4.5, SSP3-7.0, SSP5-8.5). These scenarios cover a range of possible futures with negative to very high CO2-emissions which are dependent on socio-economic assumptions and levels of climate change mitigation.

The Water, Climate and Future Deltas hub explores how human and climate drivers may develop in the future and assesses their potential impact on deltas worldwide.

The global picture
Major deltas of the world
Case studies
Future challenges
Interdisciplinary research group