Nav: Home

Thinking outside the box on climate mitigation

January 12, 2018

In a new commentary in the journal Nature Climate Change, IIASA researchers argue that a broader range of scenarios is needed to support international policymakers in the target of limiting climate change to under 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to avoid potential negative environmental and social consequences of carbon dioxide removal on a massive scale.

"Many currently used emissions pathways assume that we can slowly decrease fossil fuel emissions today and make up for it later with heavy implementation of negative emissions technologies," says IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program Director Michael Obersteiner, lead author of the article. "This is a problem because it assumes we can put the burden on future generations--which is neither a realistic assumption nor is it morally acceptable from an intergenerational equity point of view."

The researchers point out that 87% of the scenarios in the IPCC 5th Assessment Report that limit climate change to less than 2°C rely heavily on negative emissions in the second half of the century, with most of the carbon dioxide removal coming from a suite of technologies known as Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS). Assuming that it's even possible to deploy BECCS on the scale required (a big question for a technology that has not yet been widely tested or implemented), massive implementation of land-based carbon dioxide removal strategies would have impacts on both the environment and the food system, with previous research showing trade-offs for food security and environmental conservation.

At the same time, reliance on future negative emissions to achieve climate goals may also fail to account for feedbacks in the climate system such as methane release from thawing permafrost, which are not yet fully understood.

"Many of our scenarios do not account for the uncertainties related to the climate mitigation process. Are our carbon budget estimates reasonable? Are the technologies going to develop the way we need them to be? Are natural carbon sinks reliable, or might they turn around?" says IIASA researcher Johannes Bednar, a coauthor.

In the article, the researchers present four archetype scenarios that incorporate a broader range of potential mitigation options. These include:
  • Major reliance on carbon dioxide removal in the future, the current archetype of many existing scenarios for achieving the 2°C or more stringent 1.5°C target.

  • Rapid decarbonization starting immediately, and halving every decade as proposed in a recent Science commentary coauthored by IIASA researchers.

  • Earlier implementation of carbon dioxide removal technologies, and phasing out by the end of the century

  • Consistent implementation of carbon dioxide removal from now until the end of the century.

Under all these scenarios, current country commitments under the Paris Agreement would not be sufficient to achieve the required cuts, the researchers say.

The article adds to a large body of significant IIASA research on pathways and scenarios for climate mitigation, as well as integrated research on climate and other sustainable development goals. It also provides a critical look at the current outlook for reaching climate targets.

IIASA researcher Fabian Wagner, another study coauthor adds, "In this paper we have shown that negative emission technologies may not only be an asset but also an economic burden if not deployed with care. We as scientists need to be careful when we communicate to policymakers about how realistic different scenarios might be. When we present scenarios that require the world to convert an amount of land equivalent to all today's cropland to energy plantations, alarm bells should go off."
-end-
Reference

Obersteiner M, Bednar J, Wagner F, Gasser T, Ciais P, Forsell N, Havlik P, Valin H, Janssens IA, Penuelas J, Schmidt-Traub G (2018). How to spend a dwindling greenhouse gas budget. Nature Climate Change doi:10.1038/s41558-017-0045-1

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Related Climate Articles:

Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Incubating climate change
A group of James Cook University scientists led by Emeritus Professor Ross Alford has designed and built an inexpensive incubator that could boost research into how animals and plants will be affected by climate change.
And the Oscar goes to ... climate change
New research finds that Tweets and Google searches about climate change set new record highs after Leonardo DiCaprio's Academy Awards acceptance speech, suggesting celebrity advocacy for social issues on a big stage can motivate popular engagement.
Cod and climate
Researchers use the North Atlantic Oscillation as a predictive tool for managing an iconic fishery.
What hibernating toads tell us about climate
The ability to predict when toads come out of hibernation in southern Canada could provide valuable insights into the future effects of climate change on a range of animals and plants.
Maryland climate and health report identifies state's vulnerabilities to climate change
A new report by the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene details the impacts of climate change on the health of Marylanders now and in the future.

Related Climate Reading:

Climate--A New Story
by Charles Eisenstein (Author)

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change (The Politically Incorrect Guides)
by Marc Morano (Author)

The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change
by Robert Henson (Author)

The Climate Chronicles: Inconvenient Revelations You Won't Hear From Al Gore--And Others
by Joe Bastardi (Author)

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy
by Hal Harvey (Author), Robbie Orvis (Author), Jeffrey Rissman (Author)

How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate
by Andrew J. Hoffman (Author)

Climate Change: The Facts 2017
by Institute of Public Affairs

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
by Naomi Klein (Author)

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know®
by Joseph Romm (Author)

The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire (The Princeton History of the Ancient World)
by Kyle Harper (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Circular
We're told if the economy is growing, and if we keep producing, that's a good thing. But at what cost? This hour, TED speakers explore circular systems that regenerate and re-use what we already have. Guests include economist Kate Raworth, environmental activist Tristram Stuart, landscape architect Kate Orff, entrepreneur David Katz, and graphic designer Jessi Arrington.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#504 The Art of Logic
How can mathematics help us have better arguments? This week we spend the hour with "The Art of Logic in an Illogical World" author, mathematician Eugenia Cheng, as she makes her case that the logic of mathematics can combine with emotional resonance to allow us to have better debates and arguments. Along the way we learn a lot about rigorous logic using arguments you're probably having every day, while also learning a lot about our own underlying beliefs and assumptions.