Abstract

Disentangling the relative importance of climate change abatement policies from the human–Earth system (HES) uncertainties that determine their performance is challenging because the two are inexorably linked, and the nature of this linkage is dynamic, interactive and metric specific1. Here, we demonstrate an approach to quantify the individual and joint roles that diverse HES uncertainties and our choices in abatement policy play in determining future climate and economic conditions, as simulated by an improved version of the Dynamic Integrated model of Climate and the Economy2,3. Despite wide-ranging HES uncertainties, the growth rate of global abatement (a societal choice) is the primary driver of long-term warming. It is not a question of whether we can limit warming but whether we choose to do so. Our results elucidate important long-term HES dynamics that are often masked by common time-aggregated metrics. Aggressive near-term abatement will be very costly and do little to impact near-term warming. Conversely, the warming that will be experienced by future generations will mostly be driven by earlier abatement actions. We quantify probabilistic abatement pathways to tolerable climate/economic outcomes4,5, conditional on the climate sensitivity to the atmospheric CO2 concentration. Even under optimistic assumptions about the climate sensitivity, pathways to a tolerable climate/economic future are rapidly narrowing.

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Code availability

The CDICE2013 model2 was updated to be consistent with DICE-2016R3, and is available at: https://github.com/JRLamontagne/cdice_sa

Data availability

The data that were used in this analysis are available at the GitHub repository: https://github.com/JRLamontagne/cdice_sa

Additional information

Journal peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks the reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Change history

  • 18 March 2019

    In the version of this Letter originally published, the following ‘Journal peer review information’ was missing “Nature Climate Change thanks the reviewers for their contribution to the peer review of this work.” This statement has now been added.

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Acknowledgments

This work was partially supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management under NSF cooperative agreement GEO-1240507 as well as the Penn State Center for Climate Risk Management. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Author information

Author notes

    • G. Marangoni

    Present address: Department of Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering, Politecnico di Milano, Milan, Italy

Affiliations

  1. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Tufts University, Medford, MA, USA

    • J. R. Lamontagne
  2. School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA

    • P. M. Reed
  3. Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

    • G. Marangoni
    •  & K. Keller
  4. Department of Geosciences, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

    • K. Keller
  5. Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ, USA

    • G. G. Garner

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Contributions

J.R.L., G.G.G. and G.M. prepared the computer models. J.R.L. conducted the simulation. J.R.L. and G.M. performed the data analysis with help from G.G.G. P.M.R. and K.K. supervised the project. All authors wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to J. R. Lamontagne.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Tables 1–15, Supplementary Figures 1–7, Supplementary References

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-019-0426-8