The Paris Agreement gave climate action advocates a measure of certainty, but it also raised numerous questions: Are countries aiming high enough in their new climate targets? By how much do national climate action plans – or nationally-determined contributions (NDCs) – reduce emissions? Which pathways can countries take to achieve their NDCs? And how does climate action align with sustainable development?

Many groups have developed models to tackle questions like these. They allow us to explore possible scenarios for countries aiming to meet their Paris Agreement goals. It should be noted that scenarios are different to forecasting or making projections. Whereas a forecast or projection is trying to predict the future state of a system, like the economy or a country's energy mix, a scenario within one of these models is a consistent set of assumptions and model outputs. Often models produce a baseline or "business-as-usual" scenario, which is more like a forecast or projection based on current trends, only to compare other scenarios against it. This allows us to do a "what-if" kind of analysis by looking at, for example, how a carbon price would change the energy mix compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

There can be many different scenarios depending on which targets you want to reach, ranging from a low carbon transition to a fossil-fuel intensive one. These scenarios can inform the pathways that countries can take to implement their NDCs and reach their development goals. However, the great variety of models and scenarios can make it difficult to understand the underlying collection of assumptions on the driving forces of change, and thus, obscure what actions are needed to reach that country's climate and sustainable development goals.

This is why World Resources Institute and Google built the Climate Watch Pathways tool, making it easier to visualize, compare and draw insights into different scenarios in order to understand what countries would need to do to make these stories a reality. It is the first comprehensive tool that helps you navigate through the results of multiple models and visualize scenarios for countries, regions, and sectors with the assumptions that go into these models.

In the examples below, we dive into some of the different ways we can derive insights from the tool, navigating through models' results, indicators, and assumptions.

How Will India's Emissions Change?

India's current per capita emissions are far lower than those of industrialized Western countries. This is in part because the country doesn't use as much electricity as those others. As India's economy grows, that will change. Different scenarios from the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM) model in Pathways all show an increase in total generation to about 26 exajoules per year in 2050, up from 3.5 exajoules per year in 2010.

But the kind of power that is added to the generation mix varies widely in these scenarios. That determines the trajectory of their emissions. In observing the different GCAM scenarios, we can see that the "Paris-increased ambition" emissions projections are about half as much as the "Paris-continued ambition" projections by 2100.

Climate Watch's Pathways tool can help us see how they might achieve this difference. The "increased ambition" comes with a substantial decrease in reliance on coal, and increased generation from clean energy in solar, wind and biomass—particularly after 2030.