The influence of non-CO2 forcings on cumulative carbon emissions budgets

Katarzyna B. Tokarska, Nathan P. Gillett, Vivek K . Arora, Warren G. Lee, Kirsten Zickfeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Carbon budgets provide a useful tool for policymakers to help meet the global climate targets, as they specify total allowable carbon emissions consistent with limiting warming to a given temperature threshold. Non-CO2 forcings have a net warming effect in the Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) scenarios, leading to reductions in remaining carbon budgets based on CO2 forcing alone. Carbon budgets consistent with limiting warming to below 2.0 °C, with and without accounting for the effects of non-CO2 forcings, were assessed in inconsistent ways by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), making the effects of non-CO2 forcings hard to identify. Here we use a consistent approach to compare 1.5 °C and 2.0 °C carbon budgets with and without accounting for the effects of non-CO2 forcings, using CO2-only and RCP8.5 simulations. The median allowable carbon budgets for 1.5 °C and 2.0 °C warming are reduced by 257 PgC and 418 PgC, respectively, and the uncertainty ranges on the budgets are reduced by more than a factor of two when accounting for the net warming effects of non-CO2 forcings. While our overall results are consistent with IPCC, we use a more robust methodology, and explain the narrower uncertainty ranges of carbon budgets when non-CO2 forcings are included. We demonstrate that most of the reduction in carbon budgets is a result of the direct warming effect of the non-CO2 forcings, with a secondary contribution from the influence of the non-CO2 forcings on the carbon cycle. Such carbon budgets are expected to play an increasingly important role in climate change mitigation, thus understanding the influence of non-CO2 forcings on these budgets and their uncertainties is critical.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume13
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2018

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