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Scenarios give us lenses that help us see future prospects more clearly, make richer judgments and be more sensitive to uncertainties. Discover how the Shell Scenarios team has helped guide decision makers at major moments in history and get a peek at the team future focus, including the intricate relationship between energy, water and food.

Watch the "Imagining the future" video

Prepared for an oil shock

Arab oil-producing countries imposed an oil embargo on Western governments in October 1973 – a response to US support for Israel in the Yom Kippur war. Within weeks, the price of crude oil soared from around $2.50 a barrel to $11. The high price restricted economic activity in the West, causing a slump in the stock market and a rise in unemployment.

Shell’s scenarios work had allowed it to foresee and, to some extent, prepare for this shock. We were in a sense ready for it and were able to recover more quickly than our competitors.

A vision of post-apartheid South Africa

Following the official end to apartheid in South Africa, Shell’s approach to scenarios inspired a series of meetings by politicians, business leaders, trade unionists, academics and community activists to consider the country’s future. They devised four plausible scenarios for the country from 1992-2002, supported by a former Shell’s Scenarios team member. The project contributed to a common vocabulary and mutual understanding.

Responding to AIDS

While the number of new cases of HIV and AIDS may be falling in sub-Saharan Africa, 1.8 million people were newly infected in this region in 2009 alone. (UN AIDS) The UN drew on Shell’s approach to scenarios to devise three versions of the future that explored the consequences of different government actions. These scenarios helped to guide the leaders’ response to the epidemic and to work out which response to the crisis would create the best outcome for Africa, Africans and the rest of the world by 2025.


The number of people on our planet is rising. By 2050 we will be 9 billion, and 75% of us will live in cities. Our demands will place increased pressure on supplies of energy, water and food. The relationship between these resources seems simple: water is needed to produce most forms of energy; energy is required to treat and transport water, and food production relies on water and energy. It is, however, more complex. Shell is using scenarios to help explore the future dynamics of these vital resources.

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Ecofys and Shell have been collaborating for five years to establish realistic estimates of the world’s renewable fuel and electricity resource at country level. The results of this work, originally created to support Shell’s future energy scenarios, have been published in the peer reviewed journals "Biomass and Bioenergy" and “Global Environmental Change”.