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Climate change mitigation: trade-offs between delay and strength of action required

Vaughan, Naomi E., Lenton, Timothy M. and Shepherd, John G. (2009) Climate change mitigation: trade-offs between delay and strength of action required Climatic Change, 96, (1-2), pp. 29-43. (doi:10.1007/s10584-009-9573-7).

Record type: Article


Climate change mitigation via a reduction in the anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) is the principle requirement for reducing global warming, its impacts, and the degree of adaptation required. We present a simple conceptual model of anthropogenic CO2 emissions to highlight the trade off between delay in commencing mitigation, and the strength of mitigation then required to meet specific atmospheric CO2 stabilization targets. We calculate the effects of alternative emission profiles on atmospheric CO2 and global temperature change over a millennial timescale using a simple coupled carbon cycle-climate model. For example, if it takes 50 years to transform the energy sector and the maximum rate at which emissions can be reduced is ?2.5% , delaying action until 2020 would lead to stabilization at 540 ppm. A further 20 year delay would result in a stabilization level of 730 ppm, and a delay until 2060 would mean stabilising at over 1,000 ppm. If stabilization targets are met through delayed action, combined with strong rates of mitigation, the emissions profiles result in transient peaks of atmospheric CO2 (and potentially temperature) that exceed the stabilization targets. Stabilization at 450 ppm requires maximum mitigation rates of ?3% to ?5% , and when delay exceeds 2020, transient peaks in excess of 550 ppm occur. Consequently tipping points for certain Earth system components may be transgressed. Avoiding dangerous climate change is more easily achievable if global mitigation action commences as soon as possible. Starting mitigation earlier is also more effective than acting more aggressively once mitigation has begun.

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Published date: September 2009
Organisations: Ocean and Earth Science


Local EPrints ID: 69197
ISSN: 0165-0009
PURE UUID: d512c2a1-7883-4116-bde0-c6c4c46f9365
ORCID for John G. Shepherd: ORCID iD

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Date deposited: 23 Oct 2009
Last modified: 19 Jul 2017 00:13

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Author: Naomi E. Vaughan
Author: Timothy M. Lenton

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