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Letters to Nature
Nature 379, 240 - 243 (18 January 1996); doi:10.1038/379240a0

Economic and environmental choices in the stabilization of atmospheric CO2 concentrations

T. M. L. Wigley*, R.  Richels & J. A. Edmonds

* University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, PO Box 3000, Boulder, Colorado 80307-3000, USA
Electric Power Research Institute, PO Box 10412, Palo Alto, California 94303, USA
Pacific Northwest Laboratory, 901 D Street, SW, Suite 900, Washington

THE ultimate goal of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is to achieve "stabilization of greenhouse-gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". With the concentration targets yet to be determined, Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change developed a set of illustrative pathways for stabilizing the atmospheric CO2 concentration at 350, 450, 550, 650 and 750 p.p.m.v. over the next few hundred years1,2. But no attempt was made to determine whether the implied emissions might constitute a realistic transition away from the current heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Here we devise new stabilization profiles that explicitly (albeit qualitatively) incorporate considerations of the global economic system, estimate the corresponding anthropogenic emissions requirements, and assess the significance of the profiles in terms of global-mean temperature and sea level changes. Our findings raise a number of important issues for those engaged in climate-change policy making, particularly with regard to the optimal timing of mitigation measures.

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