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      Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2 °C

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          Abstract

          More than 100 countries have adopted a global warming limit of 2 degrees C or below (relative to pre-industrial levels) as a guiding principle for mitigation efforts to reduce climate change risks, impacts and damages. However, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions corresponding to a specified maximum warming are poorly known owing to uncertainties in the carbon cycle and the climate response. Here we provide a comprehensive probabilistic analysis aimed at quantifying GHG emission budgets for the 2000-50 period that would limit warming throughout the twenty-first century to below 2 degrees C, based on a combination of published distributions of climate system properties and observational constraints. We show that, for the chosen class of emission scenarios, both cumulative emissions up to 2050 and emission levels in 2050 are robust indicators of the probability that twenty-first century warming will not exceed 2 degrees C relative to pre-industrial temperatures. Limiting cumulative CO(2) emissions over 2000-50 to 1,000 Gt CO(2) yields a 25% probability of warming exceeding 2 degrees C-and a limit of 1,440 Gt CO(2) yields a 50% probability-given a representative estimate of the distribution of climate system properties. As known 2000-06 CO(2) emissions were approximately 234 Gt CO(2), less than half the proven economically recoverable oil, gas and coal reserves can still be emitted up to 2050 to achieve such a goal. Recent G8 Communiqués envisage halved global GHG emissions by 2050, for which we estimate a 12-45% probability of exceeding 2 degrees C-assuming 1990 as emission base year and a range of published climate sensitivity distributions. Emissions levels in 2020 are a less robust indicator, but for the scenarios considered, the probability of exceeding 2 degrees C rises to 53-87% if global GHG emissions are still more than 25% above 2000 levels in 2020.

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          Most cited references 23

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          Uncertainty estimates in regional and global observed temperature changes: A new data set from 1850

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            Improved estimates of upper-ocean warming and multi-decadal sea-level rise.

            Changes in the climate system's energy budget are predominantly revealed in ocean temperatures and the associated thermal expansion contribution to sea-level rise. Climate models, however, do not reproduce the large decadal variability in globally averaged ocean heat content inferred from the sparse observational database, even when volcanic and other variable climate forcings are included. The sum of the observed contributions has also not adequately explained the overall multi-decadal rise. Here we report improved estimates of near-global ocean heat content and thermal expansion for the upper 300 m and 700 m of the ocean for 1950-2003, using statistical techniques that allow for sparse data coverage and applying recent corrections to reduce systematic biases in the most common ocean temperature observations. Our ocean warming and thermal expansion trends for 1961-2003 are about 50 per cent larger than earlier estimates but about 40 per cent smaller for 1993-2003, which is consistent with the recognition that previously estimated rates for the 1990s had a positive bias as a result of instrumental errors. On average, the decadal variability of the climate models with volcanic forcing now agrees approximately with the observations, but the modelled multi-decadal trends are smaller than observed. We add our observational estimate of upper-ocean thermal expansion to other contributions to sea-level rise and find that the sum of contributions from 1961 to 2003 is about 1.5 +/- 0.4 mm yr(-1), in good agreement with our updated estimate of near-global mean sea-level rise (using techniques established in earlier studies) of 1.6 +/- 0.2 mm yr(-1).
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              Warming of the world ocean, 1955–2003

               S Levitus (2005)
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Nature
                Nature
                Springer Science and Business Media LLC
                0028-0836
                1476-4687
                April 2009
                April 2009
                : 458
                : 7242
                : 1158-1162
                Article
                10.1038/nature08017
                19407799
                © 2009

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