Marine Research Findings of the VECTORS Project

This website provides access to the research results of the VECTORS project, which can be used to support marine management decisions, policies and governance as well as future research and investment. VECTORS was a large scale project that brought together more than 200 expert researchers from 16 different countries. It examined the significant changes taking place in European seas, their causes, and the impacts they will have on society.

Future scenarios and policy implications with relevance to VECTORS

A scientific objective of VECTORS was ‘to project the future changes and consequences of multi sectoral human activity in the marine environment under possible scenarios of adaptation and mitigation’. Scenarios are imagined alternative futures which must be possible, plausible and credible to be a useful tool for management. They are not necessarily visions or plans, but can help to guide strategy and can describe both optimistic and problematic futures. Scenarios can be used to ‘test’ if policy actions are robust and sustainable against climate versus economic versus political/legislation changes. VECTORS WP6 used all four future scenarios (Table 1) based on work originally presented within the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES)1 which provides a framework to test and apply the possible future developments of three of the VECTORS drivers of change (demand for food, transport and energy) and explo re their policy repercussions to 2050.


Given the future is uncertain, VECTORS research applied all four future scenarios to test if current marine policy actions are robust and sustainable. This research focussed on three of the VECTORS drivers of change and explored policy repercussions to 2050.

Although legal obligations have generally not been factored into the scenarios, they do affect the likelihood of the scenarios unfolding. Scenario analysis was undertaken on three of the VECTORS drivers of change (demand for food, transport and energy). VECTORS research shows how the governance of these sectors would change between present and 2050 based on the four scenarios (Fig. 1). This figure is further discussed in D60.6.

Figure 2 indicates the current instruments which govern the marine environment and which may still exist in 2050. The timelines include start date, longevity and reporting periods, and show where specific legislation sets target dates for management e.g. the MSFD requiring GES by 2020 and the EU Renewable Energy Directive requiring 20% of all energy by renewable sources by 2020.

It is presumed unlikely that any of the four scenarios would be free to evolve unconstrained since future pathways are dependent upon existing legislation, obligations and conventions. However, legislation in the future may change (be amended) or revoked (repealed) (e.g. The Water Framework Directive repealing four former directives) based on changes in policy. The enforcement of EU directives by the Commission or the enforcement of international law by the respective governing body may also change depending on the future scenarios. Countries may choose to step away from the obligations of the law or make it a secondary concern to other environmental or economic issues depending on their future priorities for energy, fishing and shipping.


There was support from the VECTORS marine stakeholders for the use of future scenario analysis to test the relevance of current policy into the future.

Scenario analysis is valuable in providing insights into possible outcomes of decisions taken now and their future ramifications. Although the four future scenarios depict extreme events, they all contain recognisable events to which people can relate - for example society is globalising but at the same time becoming more aware of environmental issues. Future scenario testing has been used in many sectors of coastal management with examples including scenario planning for storm surge flooding and loss of coastal wetlands in the UK2 and the Mediterranean3, and climate change on European marine ecosystems4.

Stakeholder feedback reported that the scenarios can be used to ‘test’ which policy actions are robust and sustainable and can be a great tool to force policymakers to think ahead and to model changes in society. However, the stakeholders highlighted the importance of using ‘extremes to think the unthinkable’ and to ensure that the scenarios used are not ‘too safe’. The scenarios were questioned as to whether they are in fact extreme enough, for example at present, the scenarios only take into account growth of populations and the economy, and not declines in these factors. The scenarios are not mutually exclusive and although each of the scenarios may be good for testing ideas, each one is extreme and unlikely. Therefore a more realistic future scenario is likely to include components of all four.

Relevance for Policy:
  • Alien Invasive Species Directive
  • Common Fisheries Policy
  • Convention on Biological Diversity
  • Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning and Integrated Coastal Management (forthcoming)
  • Environmental Impact Assessment Directive
  • EU Biodiversity Strategy
  • Guidelines for the Control and Management of Ships’ Biofouling to Minimize the Transfer of Invasive Aquatic Species
  • Habitats and Birds Directive
  • ICZM Protocol to the Barcelona Convention
  • Integrated European Maritime Policy (IMP)
  • International Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-Fouling Systems on Ships
  • International Convention for the Control and Management of Ship's Ballast Water and Sediments
  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive
  • Water Framework Directive


Lead Author:

Sue Boyes, Mike Elliott and Daryl Burdon & Sue Boyes
University of Hull (UHULL)
Date of research: September 2014

Related articles:

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Develop risk assessments leading to best practice

Dogger Bank: stakeholder and policy-maker needs 

Ecology - Economy interactions in fisheries 

Fish stock location and international agreements

Risk assessment of sea urchin fishery in an MPA

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The content of this website may be subject to copyright, if you wish to use any of the information or figures please contact the attributed author(s).
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under grant agreement no 266445
© Vectors 2015. Coordinated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory.