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Stabilizing climate requires cutting emissions to zero

Stabilizing climate requires cutting emissions to zero

Stabilizing climate requires cutting emissions to zero
February 14, 2008

Even if greenhouse gas emissions are reduced to zero tomorrow, global temperatures would remain high for at least 500 years, according to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters. The findings suggest that stablizing emissions at current levels will not be enough to curtail the effects of climate change.

Using a sophisticated computer model developed at the University of Victoria in Canada, climate scientists Ken Caldeira and Damon Matthews “investigated how much climate changes as a result of each individual emission of carbon dioxide, and found that each increment of emission leads to another increment of warming.” In other words, avoiding additional warming will require avoiding additional emissions — carbon dioxide emissions would need to be virtually eliminated.

“Most scientific and policy discussions about avoiding climate change have centered on what emissions would be needed to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” said Caldeira. “But stabilizing greenhouse gases does not equate to a stable climate. We studied what emissions would be needed to stabilize climate in the foreseeable future.”

“What if we were to discover tomorrow that a climate catastrophe was imminent if our planet warmed any further? To reduce emissions enough to avoid this catastrophe, we would have to cut them close to zero — and right away.”

Caldeira says that cutting global emissions may not be as difficult as it may sound.

“It is just not that hard to solve the technological challenges,” he says. “We can develop and deploy wind turbines, electric cars, and so on, and live well without damaging the environment. The future can be better than the present, but we have to take steps to start kicking the CO2 habit now, so we won’t need to go cold turkey later.”

Matthews, H. D., and K. Caldeira (2008), Stabilizing climate requires near-zero emissions, Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2007GL032388, in press.

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