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Regional estimates of the transient climate response to cumulative CO2 emissions

Abstract

The Transient Climate Response to cumulative carbon Emissions (TCRE) measures the response of global temperatures to cumulative CO2 emissions1,2,3,4. Although the TCRE is a global quantity, climate impacts manifest predominantly in response to local climate changes. Here we quantify the link between CO2 emissions and regional temperature change, showing that regional temperatures also respond approximately linearly to cumulative CO2 emissions. Using an ensemble of twelve Earth system models, we present a novel application of pattern scaling5,6 to define the regional pattern of temperature change per emission of CO2. Ensemble mean regional TCRE values range from less than 1 °C per TtC for some ocean regions, to more than 5 °C per TtC in the Arctic, with a pattern of higher values over land and at high northern latitudes. We find also that high-latitude ocean regions deviate more strongly from linearity as compared to land and lower-latitude oceans. This suggests that ice-albedo and ocean circulation feedbacks are important contributors to the overall negative deviation from linearity of the global temperature response to high levels of cumulative emissions. The strong linearity of the regional climate response over most land regions provides a robust way to quantitatively link anthropogenic CO2 emissions to local-scale climate impacts.

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Figure 1: The pattern of temperature change per CO2 emission.
Figure 2: RTCRE estimates and time series of the regional temperature response to cumulative emissions calculated over 21 land regions.
Figure 3: Characterization of the inter-model spread of RTCRE values.
Figure 4: Characterization of the relative linearity of regional temperature responses to cumulative emissions.

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Acknowledgements

The authors recognize the financial contribution of the Concordia Institute for Water, Energy and Sustainable Systems (NSERC CREATE grant), HDM’s NSERC Discovery Grant and Concordia University Research Chair research grant, the Ouranos Consortium, the ‘Fonds de recherche en sciences du climat d’Ouranos’ (FRSCO) programme, the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies at Concordia University and the Global Environmental and Climate Change Centre (GEC3). The authors also wish to thank N. Gillett and B. G. St-Denis for their technical help and P. Goodwin and the Concordia Climate Science, Impacts and Mitigation Studies (C2SIMS) group for insightful discussions. We finally acknowledge the World Climate Research Programme’s Working Group on Coupled Modelling, which is responsible for CMIP, and we thank the climate modelling groups for producing and making available their model output. For CMIP, the US Department of Energy’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Inter-comparison provides coordinating support and led development of software infrastructure in partnership with the Global Organization for Earth System Science Portals.

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M.L. and H.D.M. conceived and designed the research with input from R.d.E.; M.L. performed the experiments and analysis with assistance from R.d.E.; M.L. and H.D.M. wrote the paper, and all authors contributed to the development of the final manuscript.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Martin Leduc or H. Damon Matthews.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Leduc, M., Matthews, H. & de Elía, R. Regional estimates of the transient climate response to cumulative CO2 emissions. Nature Clim Change 6, 474–478 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2913

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