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Natural climate variability and future climate policy



Large ensemble climate modelling experiments demonstrate the large role natural variability plays in local climate on a multi-decadal timescale. Variability in local weather and climate influences individual beliefs about climate change. To the extent that support for climate mitigation policies is determined by citizens' local experiences, natural variability will strongly influence the timescale for implementation of such policies. Under a number of illustrative threshold criteria for both national and international climate action, we show that variability-driven uncertainty about local change, even in the face of a well-constrained estimate of global change, can potentially delay the time to policy implementation by decades. Because several decades of greenhouse gas emissions can have a large impact on long-term climate outcomes, there is substantial risk associated with climate policies driven by consensus among individuals who are strongly influenced by local weather conditions.

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Figure 1: Range of time-to-action (in years after 2013) for the top six carbon dioxide emitters.
Figure 2: Maps of the time-to-action (in years after 2013) by country.
Figure 3: Years until an international agreement is reached by world power scheme and policy approach.
Figure 4: Years until an international agreement is reached by worldview, power scheme and policy approach.


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The authors thank C. Deser for helpful discussions and C. Deser and A. Philips for assistance obtaining the CCSM large ensemble data. We thank J. Pongratz for assistance with supplementary analyses of crop yields.

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Both authors contributed to the design of the study. K.L.R. conducted the data analyses. Both authors contributed to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Katharine L. Ricke.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Ricke, K., Caldeira, K. Natural climate variability and future climate policy. Nature Clim Change 4, 333–338 (2014).

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