Impact of delay in reducing carbon dioxide emissions

21 November 2013

Myles R. Allen & Thomas F. Stocker

Myles R. Allen & Thomas F. Stocker Nature Climate Change (2013) doi:10.1038/nclimate2077 Received 24 July 2013 | Accepted 08 November 2013 | Published online 21 November 2013

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Recent downward revisions in the climate response to rising CO2 levels, and opportunities for reducing non-CO2 climate warming, have both been cited as evidence that the case for reducing CO2 emissions is less urgent than previously thought. Evaluating the impact of delay is complicated by the fact that CO2 emissions accumulate over time, so what happens after they peak is as relevant for long-term warming as the size and timing of the peak itself. Previous discussions have focused on how the rate of reduction required to meet any given temperature target rises asymptotically the later the emissions peak. Here we focus on a complementary question: how fast is peak CO2-induced warming increasing while mitigation is delayed, assuming no increase in rates of reduction after the emissions peak? We show that this peak-committed warming is increasing at the same rate as cumulative CO2 emissions, about 2% per year, much faster than observed warming, independent of the climate response.