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This article provides a background for the ‘Developing post-2012 scenarios project’, an international study which looks at a range of scenarios that countries may wish to consider for a post-2012 framework to tackle climate change. The purpose of the article is threefold. Firstly, it provides a review of the literature for the future climate regime. Secondly, it provides a set of criteria that are used in order to evaluate whether the scenarios provided in the other articles in this Special Edition are likely to be effective. Thirdly, the article spells out some of the more general policy implications rising from these scenarios.