Allowable CO2 emissions based on regional and impact-related climate targets

Abstract

Global temperature targets, such as the widely accepted limit of an increase above pre-industrial temperatures of two degrees Celsius, may fail to communicate the urgency of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The translation of CO2 emissions into regional- and impact-related climate targets could be more powerful because such targets are more directly aligned with individual national interests. We illustrate this approach using regional changes in extreme temperatures and precipitation. These scale robustly with global temperature across scenarios, and thus with cumulative CO2 emissions. This is particularly relevant for changes in regional extreme temperatures on land, which are much greater than changes in the associated global mean.

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Figure 1: Simulated global mean surface temperature increase as a function of cumulative total global CO2 emissions.
Figure 2: Extreme (and mean) temperature changes associated with a 2 °C target.
Figure 3: Scaling between regional changes in annual temperature extremes and changes in global mean temperature, with associated global cumulative CO2 emissions targets.
Figure 4: Scaling of 5-day heavy precipitation events with global mean temperature changes, with associated global cumulative CO2 emissions targets.

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Acknowledgements

S.I.S. acknowledges the European Research Council (ERC) ‘DROUGHT-HEAT’ project funded by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (grant agreement FP7-IDEAS-ERC-617518). A.J.P. and M.G.D. were supported by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (grant number CE110001028). M.G.D. was also supported by the ARC (grant number DE150100456). This work contributes to the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) Grand Challenge on Extremes. We acknowledge the WCRP Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals. We thank N. Maher for help with processing CMIP5 data. The climate extremes indices calculated for the different CMIP5 runs were obtained from the Environment Canada CLIMDEX website (http://www.cccma.ec.gc.ca/data/climdex/).

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S.I.S., M.G.D. and A.J.P. designed the study, following an initial discussion between S.I.S, A.J.P. and R.K. S.I.S. coordinated the conception and writing of the article. M.G.D. performed the analyses. R.L.W. contributed to the interpretation of regional impacts. All authors commented on the manuscript and analyses.

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Correspondence to Sonia I. Seneviratne.

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Seneviratne, S., Donat, M., Pitman, A. et al. Allowable CO2 emissions based on regional and impact-related climate targets. Nature 529, 477–483 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature16542

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