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Relative outcomes of climate change mitigation related to global temperature versus sea-level rise

Abstract

There is a common perception that, if human societies make the significant adjustments necessary to substantively cut emissions of greenhouse gases, global temperature increases could be stabilized, and the most dangerous consequences of climate change could be avoided. Here we show results from global coupled climate model simulations with the new representative concentration pathway mitigation scenarios to 2300 to illustrate that, with aggressive mitigation in two of the scenarios, globally averaged temperature increase indeed could be stabilized either below 2 °C or near 3 °C above pre-industrial values. However, even as temperatures stabilize, sea level would continue to rise. With little mitigation, future sea-level rise would be large and continue unabated for centuries. Though sea-level rise cannot be stopped for at least the next several hundred years, with aggressive mitigation it can be slowed down, and this would buy time for adaptation measures to be adopted.

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Figure 1: Globally averaged surface air temperature.
Figure 2: Global sea-level rise anomaly due to thermal expansion and ocean-temperature anomalies.
Figure 3: Global sea-level anomalies.

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Acknowledgements

This research used computing resources of the Climate Simulation Laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation; the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under Contract DE-AC05-00OR22725; and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, which is supported by the Office of Science of the US Department of Energy under Contract DE-AC02-05CH11231. The authors acknowledge helpful input from B. O'Neill at NCAR. Portions of this study were supported by the Office of Science (BER), US Department of Energy, Cooperative Agreement No. DE-FC02-97ER62402, and the National Science Foundation. We acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme's Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP5, and we thank the climate modelling groups (listed in Supplementary Table S2) for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP5, the US Department of Energy's Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison provided coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

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Correspondence to Gerald A. Meehl.

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Meehl, G., Hu, A., Tebaldi, C. et al. Relative outcomes of climate change mitigation related to global temperature versus sea-level rise. Nature Clim Change 2, 576–580 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1529

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