Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Insensitivity of global warming potentials to carbon dioxide emission scenarios

Abstract

GLOBAL warming potentials for radiatively active trace gases (such as methane and chlorofluorocarbons) have generally been expressed1–2 relative to the time-integrated climate forcing per unit emission of carbon dioxide. Previous attempts to estimate the integrated climate forcing per unit CO2 emitted have focused on perturbations to steady-state conditions in carbon-cycle models. But for non-steady-state conditions, the integrated climate forcing from a CO2 perturbation depends both on the initial conditions and on future atmospheric CO2 concentrations. As atmospheric CO2concentrations increase, the radiative forcing per unit CO2 emitted will become smaller because the strongest absorption bands will already be saturated. At the same time, higher concentrations of dissolved carbon in the surface ocean will reduce the ocean's ability to absorb excess CO2from the atmosphere. Each of these effects taken alone would affect the climate forcing from a pulse of emitted CO2 by a factor of three or more; but here we show that, taken together, they compensate for each other. The net result is that the global warming potential of CO2 relative to other radiatively active trace gases is nearly independent of the CO2emission scenario. Thus, the concept of the global warming potential remains useful, despite the nonlinearities in the climate system and uncertainties in future emissions.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. Shine, K. P., Derwent, R. G., Wuebbles, D. J. & Morcrete, J.-J. in Climate Change—The IPPC Scientific Assessment (eds Houghton, J. T., Jenkins, G. J. & Elphraums, J. J.) 41–68 (Cambridge Univ. Press, New York, 1990).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Lashof, D. A. & Ahuja, D. R. Nature 344, 529–531 (1990).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Caldeira, K. Globl Biogeochem. Cycles (submitted).

  4. Siegenthaler, U. J. geophys. Res. 88, 3599–3608 (1983).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Stumm, W. & Morgan, J. J. Aquatic Chemistry 2nd edn (Wiley, New York, 1981).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Maier-Reimer, E. & Hasselmann, K. Clim. Dyn. 2, 63–90 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Killough, G. G. & Emanuel, W. R. Tellus 33, 274–290 (1981).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Hansen, J. et al. J. geophys. Res. 93, 9341–9364 (1988).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Kiehl, J. T. & Dickenson, R. E. J. geophys. Res. 92, 2991–2998 (1987).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Caldeira, K., Kasting, J. Insensitivity of global warming potentials to carbon dioxide emission scenarios. Nature 366, 251–253 (1993). https://doi.org/10.1038/366251a0

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/366251a0

This article is cited by

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing