Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

The role of short-lived climate pollutants in meeting temperature goals

A Corrigendum to this article was published on 20 December 2013


Some recent high-profile publications have suggested that immediately reducing emissions of methane, black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) may contribute substantially towards the goal of limiting global warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. Although this literature acknowledges that action on long-lived climate pollutants (LLCPs) such as CO2 is also required, it is not always appreciated that SLCP emissions in any given decade only have a significant impact on peak temperature under circumstances in which CO2 emissions are falling. Immediate action on SLCPs might potentially 'buy time' for adaptation by reducing near-term warming; however early SLCP reductions, compared with reductions in a future decade, do not buy time to delay reductions in CO2.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Impact of SLCP reductions at different times under various scenarios.
Figure 2: Impact on peak warming of early implementation of SLCP measures versus simultaneous rate of reduction of CO2 emissions.


  1. Friedlingstein, P. et al. Update on CO2 emissions. Nature Geosci. 3, 811–812 (2010).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Molina, M. et al. Reducing abrupt climate change risk using the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 20616 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone (UNEP & WMO, 2011).

  4. Shindell, D. et al. Simultaneously mitigating near-term climate change and improving human health and food security. Science 335, 183–189 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Wallack, J. S. & Ramanathan, V. The other climate changers: Why black carbon and ozone also matter. Foreign Aff. 88, 105–113 (2009).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Rypdal, K. et al. Costs and global impacts of black carbon abatement strategies. Tellus B 61, 625–641 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Establishment of an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action Decision 1/CP.17 (UNFCCC, 2011).

  8. Smith, S. M. et al. Equivalence of greenhouse-gas emissions for peak temperature limits. Nature Clim. Change 2, 535–538 (2012).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Myhre, G., Fuglestvedt, J. S., Berntsen, T. K. & Lund, M. T. Mitigation of short-lived heating components may lead to unwanted long-term consequences. Atmos. Environ. 45, 6103–6106 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Solomon, S., Pierrehumbert, R. T., Matthews, D. & Daniel, J. S. in Climate Science for Serving Society: Research, Modelling and Prediction Priorities (eds Asrar, G. R. & Hurrell, J. W.) 415–436 (Springer, 2012).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Victor, D. G., Kennel, C. F. & Ramanathan, V. The climate threat we can beat. Foreign Aff. 91, 112–114 (2012).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Huntingford, C. et al. Highly contrasting effects of different climate forcing agents on terrestrial ecosystem services. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 2026–2037 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Keohane, R. & Victor, D. G. The Regime Complex for Climate Change (Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements, 2010).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Allen, M. R. et al. Warming caused by cumulative carbon emissions towards the trillionth tonne. Nature 458, 1163–1166 (2009).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Bowerman, N. H. A., Frame, D. J., Huntingford, C., Lowe, J. A. & Allen, M. R. Cumulative carbon emissions, emissions floors and short-term rates of warming: Implications for policy. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 369, 45–66 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Van Vuuren, D. P. et al. The representative concentration pathways: An overview. Climatic Change 109, 5–31 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Shine, K. P., Fuglestvedt, J. S., Hailemariam, K. & Stuber, N. Alternatives to the global warming potential for comparing climate impacts of emissions of greenhouse gases. Climatic Change 68, 281–302 (2005).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Shine, K. P., Berntsen, T. K., Fuglestvedt, J. S., Skeie, R. B. & Stuber, N. Comparing the climate effect of emissions of short- and long-lived climate agents. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 365, 1903–1914 (2007).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Shine, K. P. The global warming potential—the need for an interdisciplinary retrial. Climatic Change 96, 467–472 (2009).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Rogelj, J. et al. Emission pathways consistent with a 2 °C global temperature limit. Nature Clim. Change 1, 413–418 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Huntingford, C. et al. The link between a global 2 °C warming threshold and emissions in years 2020, 2050 and beyond. Environ. Res. Lett. 7, 014039 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Karl, T. R., Knight, R. W. & Baker, B. The record breaking global temperatures of 1997 and 1998: Evidence for an increase in the rate of global warming? Geophys. Res. Lett. 27, 719–722 (2000).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Schelling, T. C. Some economics of global warming. Am. Econ. Rev. 82, 1–14 (1992).

    Google Scholar 

  24. Hodnebrog, Ø. et al. Global warming potentials and radiative efficiencies of halocarbons and related compounds: A comprehensive review. Rev. Geophys. 51, 300–378 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Meinshausen, M. et al. The RCP greenhouse gas concentrations and their extensions from 1765 to 2300. Climatic Change 109, 213–241 (2011).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Bond, T. C. et al. Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: A scientific assessment. J. Geophys. Res. 118, 1–173 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  27. Meehl, G. et al. Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis (eds Solomon, S. et al.) Ch. 10 (IPCC, Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007).

    Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank D. Shindell, J. Blackstock and R. Pierrehumbert for discussions and feedback during the progress of this research. N.H.A.B. was supported by a Natural Environment Research Council CASE studentship with the Met Office. C.H. was supported by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology science budget fund. J.A.L. was supported by the AVOID programme (DECC and Defra) under contract GA0215. S.M.S. was supported by the UK Committee on Climate Change. M.R.A. received additional support from the US NOAA and DoE through IDAG, from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment and the Oxford Martin Programme on Resource Stewardship. N.H.A.B, C.H., J.A.L and M.R.A. acknowledge the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) project TRN 307/11/2011 “Assessing the options for greenhouse gas metrics”. The views expressed herein represent those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of their employers, funders, or the UK Climate Change Committee.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



M.R.A. and N.H.A.B. designed the experiments. N.H.A.B. carried out the modelling. M.R.A., D.J.F. and N.H.A.B developed the model. All authors contributed to writing the text.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Myles R. Allen.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Bowerman, N., Frame, D., Huntingford, C. et al. The role of short-lived climate pollutants in meeting temperature goals. Nature Clim Change 3, 1021–1024 (2013).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing