The Kyoto Protocol allows reductions in emissions of several ‘greenhouse’ gases to be credited against a CO2-equivalent emissions limit, calculated using ‘global warming potential’ indices for each gas. Using an integrated global-systems model, it is shown that a multi-gas control strategy could greatly reduce the costs of fulfilling the Kyoto Protocol compared with a CO2-only strategy. Extending the Kyoto Protocol to 2100 without more severe emissions reductions shows little difference between the two strategies in climate and ecosystem effects. Under a more stringent emissions policy, the use of global warming potentials as applied in the Kyoto Protocol leads to considerably more mitigation of climate change for multi-gas strategies than for the—supposedly equivalent—CO2-only control, thus emphasizing the limits of global warming potentials as a tool for political decisions.
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We acknowledge the financial support of the industrial and government sponsors of the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at MIT, and thank V. Webb for his research assistance.
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Reilly, J., Prinn, R., Harnisch, J. et al. Multi-gas assessment of the Kyoto Protocol. Nature 401, 549–555 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/44069
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