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A global assessment of the effects of climate policy on the impacts of climate change

Nature Climate Change volume 3, pages 512519 (2013) | Download Citation


This study presents the first global-scale multi-sectoral regional assessment of the magnitude and uncertainty in the impacts of climate change avoided by emissions policies. The analysis suggests that the most stringent emissions policy considered here—which gives a 50% chance of remaining below a 2 °C temperature rise target—reduces impacts by 20–65% by 2100 relative to a ‘business-as-usual’ pathway which reaches 4 °C, and can delay impacts by several decades. The effects of mitigation policies vary between sectors and regions, and only a few are noticeable by 2030. The impacts avoided by 2100 are more strongly influenced by the date and level at which emissions peak than the rate of decline of emissions, with an earlier and lower emissions peak avoiding more impacts. The estimated proportion of impacts avoided at the global scale is relatively robust despite uncertainty in the spatial pattern of climate change, but the absolute amount of avoided impacts is considerably more variable and therefore uncertain.

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The research presented in this paper was funded under the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) AVOID programme (, and builds on the QUEST-GSI project funded by NERC (grant number NE/E001890/1). P.S. is a Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit Award holder. The authors thank S. Raper (Manchester Metropolitan University) for her contribution to the development of the probabilistic parameterization of MAGICC. The authors thank the reviewers for their helpful comments.

Author information


  1. Walker Institute for Climate System Research, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AR, UK

    • N. W. Arnell
    • , B. Lloyd-Hughes
    • , T. M. Osborne
    •  & G. A. Rose
  2. Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter EX1 3PB, UK

    • J. A. Lowe
  3. University of Southampton, Southampton SO17 1BJ, UK

    • S. Brown
    •  & R. J. Nicholls
  4. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, UK

    • S. Brown
    • , R. J. Nicholls
    •  & R. F. Warren
  5. University of Nottingham, Nottingham NG7 2RD, UK

    • S. N. Gosling
  6. PIK, Potsdam, PO Box 60 12 03, Germany

    • P. Gottschalk
    •  & J. Hinkel
  7. University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 3UU, UK

    • P. Gottschalk
    •  & P. Smith
  8. University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • T. J. Osborn
    •  & R. F. Warren


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N.W.A. developed the experimental design, led the analysis, performed some of the simulations and wrote the paper. J.A.L. led the AVOID project, developed the emissions and (with S.B.) the sea-level scenarios. T.J.O. developed and applied the ClimGEN climate scenario program. S.B. and J.H. ran the DIVA model, S.N.G. ran the hydrological models, P.G. ran the soil organic carbon model, B.L-H. ran the drought model and T.M.O. and G.A.R. ran the GLAM crop model. J.H. and R.J.N. contributed to the analysis of the coastal results, and P.S. contributed to the analysis of soil organic carbon results. R.F.W. contributed to the experimental design.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to N. W. Arnell.

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