Few pathways to an acceptable climate future without immediate action, according to study

March 11, 2019

MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (March 11, 2019)-- A new comprehensive study of climate change has painted over 5 million pictures of humanity's potential future, and few foretell an Earth that has not severely warmed. But with immediate action and some luck, there are pathways to a tolerable climate future, according to a research team led by Tufts University.

By adapting a popular computational climate change assessment model to better account for uncertainties in human activity and the atmosphere's sensitivity to carbon dioxide levels, the researchers created a novel method for exploring the consequences of different climate change futures to better inform policy decisions. The work is detailed in a paper published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

While modern assessment models integrate human activity and climate, within each exist uncertainties that can affect the outcome of the model. For instance, uncertainties in population growth, the economy, technological advancement, and the climate's sensitivity to greenhouse gases could all affect the predicted results of policies and laws designed to curb global warming. The improved model described in the study helped identify scenarios which led to a more tolerable climate future by exploring a wide range of variation within each uncertainty.

"The consequences of severe warming can be dire. Given this potential for poor outcomes, it can be dangerous to consider only a few expert elicited scenarios," said Jonathan Lamontagne, Ph.D., assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tufts University and lead author of the study. "Planners need robust frameworks that broadly explore the uncertainty space for unforeseen synergies and failure mechanisms."

The model used in the study accounts for uncertainties in human activity and climate by exploring millions of scenarios, some of which reveal pathways to a world where warming is limited to 2-degrees Celsius by the year 2100 - a goal most climate experts say is required for a "tolerable" future.

The massive analysis shows that meeting that target is exceptionally difficult in all but the most optimistic climate scenarios. One pathway is to immediately and aggressively pursue carbon-neutral energy production by 2030 and hope that the atmosphere's sensitivity to carbon emissions is relatively low, according to the study. If climate sensitivity is not low, the window to a tolerable future narrows and in some scenarios, may already be closed.

The researchers emphasize that rapid carbon reduction strategies provide a hedge against the possibility of high climate sensitivity scenarios.

"Despite massive uncertainties in a multitude of sectors, human actions are still the driving factor in determining the long-term climate. Uncertainty is sometimes interpreted as an excuse for delaying action. Our research shows that uncertainty can be a solid reason to take immediate action," said Lamontagne.
-end-
Other contributing authors include Patrick Reed, Ph.D., professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University; Giacomo Marangoni, Ph.D., post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering, at the Politecnico di Milano, Milan; Klaus Keller, Ph.D., professor of Geosciences at Pennsylvania State University; and Gregory Garner, Ph.D., post-doctoral researcher in Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers University.

This work was partially supported by the National Science Foundation through the Network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRiM) under NSF cooperative agreement GEO 1240507 as well as the Penn State Center for Climate Risk Management.

Lamontagne, J.R, Reed, P.M., Marangoni, G., Keller, K. and Garner, G.G. "Robust abatement pathways to tolerable climate futures require immediate global action." Nature Climate Change DOI: 10.1038/s41558-019-0426-8

About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.

Tufts University

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.