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Long-term sea-level rise implied by 1.5 °C and 2 °C warming levels


Sea-level rise (SLR) is a critical and uncertain climate change risk, involving timescales of centuries1. Here we use a semi-empirical model, calibrated with sea-level data of the past millennium2, to estimate the SLR implications of holding warming below 2 °C or 1.5 °C above pre-industrial temperature, as mentioned in the Cancún Agreements3. Limiting warming to these levels with a probability larger than 50% produces 75–80 cm SLR above the year 2000 by 2100. This is 25 cm below a scenario with unmitigated emissions, but 15 cm above a hypothetical scenario reducing global emissions to zero by 2016. The long-term SLR implications of the two warming goals diverge substantially on a multi-century timescale owing to inertia in the climate system and the differences in rates of SLR by 2100 between the scenarios. By 2300 a 1.5 °C scenario could peak sea level at a median estimate of 1.5 m above 2000. The 50% probability scenario for 2 °C warming would see sea level reaching 2.7 m above 2000 and still rising at about double the present-day rate. Halting SLR within a few centuries is likely to be achieved only with the large-scale deployment of CO2 removal efforts, for example, combining large-scale bioenergy systems with carbon capture and storage4.

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Figure 1: Emission scenarios and modelled temperature increase above pre-industrial levels.
Figure 2: SLR over the twenty-first century.
Figure 3: Long-term SLR.

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We thank M. Meinshausen for providing the Monte-Carlo methodology and tools for the climate-model simulations, as well as the adjusted RCP scenario RCP4.5 to 3PD. We thank H. Turton for advising on the application of the MERGE scenario and for kindly providing us with gas-specific emissions data.

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M.S. jointly conceived the study with W.H., S.R. and M.V., designed and carried out simulations, developed the methodology, analysed data and wrote the paper with W.H., S.R. and M.V. W.H. conceptualized and selected scenarios with M.S. S.R. and M.V. advised on methodology and statistical analysis.

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Correspondence to Michiel Schaeffer.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Schaeffer, M., Hare, W., Rahmstorf, S. et al. Long-term sea-level rise implied by 1.5 °C and 2 °C warming levels. Nature Clim Change 2, 867–870 (2012).

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