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The Paris Agreement zero-emissions goal is not always consistent with the 1.5 °C and 2 °C temperature targets

Nature Climate Changevolume 8pages319324 (2018) | Download Citation


The Paris Agreement stipulates that global warming be stabilized at well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, with aims to further constrain this warming to 1.5 °C. However, it also calls for reducing net anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to zero during the second half of this century. Here, we use a reduced-form integrated assessment model to examine the consistency between temperature- and emission-based targets. We find that net zero GHG emissions are not necessarily required to remain below 1.5 °C or 2 °C, assuming either target can be achieved without overshoot. With overshoot, however, the emissions goal is consistent with the temperature targets, and substantial negative emissions are associated with reducing warming after it peaks. Temperature targets are put at risk by late achievement of emissions goals and the use of some GHG emission metrics. Refinement of Paris Agreement emissions goals should include a focus on net zero CO2—not GHG—emissions, achieved early in the second half of the century.

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The authors thank D. Johansson for providing data associated with the maximum abatement cost curves used in this study. The authors are grateful for comments from B. Sanderson, X. Su, C. Tebaldi and T. Wigley, which were useful to improve this study. This research was partially supported by the Environment Research and Technology Development Fund (2-1702) of the Environmental Restoration and Conservation Agency, Japan.

Author information


  1. Center for Global Environmental Research, National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES), Tsukuba, Japan

    • Katsumasa Tanaka
  2. Climate and Global Dynamics Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Boulder, CO, USA

    • Brian C. O’Neill


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B.C.O. conceived of the research. K.T. led the study. K.T. and B.C.O designed the experiment. K.T. performed the model simulations and generated all the figures and tables. K.T. and B.C.O. analysed the results. K.T. and B.C.O. drafted the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Katsumasa Tanaka.

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    Supplementary Tables 1–2, Supplementary Figures 1–17 and Supplementary References

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