- Joint Program Report
The goal to stabilize global average surface temperature at lower than 2°C above pre-industrial level has been extensively discussed in climate negotiations. A number of publications state that achieving this goal will require net anthropogenic carbon emissions (defined as anthropogenic emissions minus anthropogenic sinks such as carbon capture and sequestration and reforestation) to be reduced to zero between years 2050 and 2100. At the same time, it is also shown in the literature that decreases of non-CO2 emissions can significantly affect the allowable carbon budget. In this study, we explore possible emission pathways under which surface warming will not exceed 2°C, by means of emission-driven climate simulations with an Earth System Model of Intermediate Complexity linked to an Economic Projection and Policy Analysis Model. We carried out a number of simulations from 1861 to 2500 for different values of parameters defining the strength of the climate system response to radiative forcing and the strength of the natural carbon sources and sinks under different anthropogenic emission projections. Although net anthropogenic emissions need to be reduced to zero eventually to achieve climate stabilization, the results of our simulations suggest that, by including significant reductions in non-CO2 emissions, net carbon emissions do not have to be zero by 2050 or even 2100 to meet the 2°C target because of offsets due to the natural carbon sinks in the oceans and terrestrial ecosystems. We show that net anthropogenic carbon emissions falling from today’s 9.5 GtC/year to 2.5–7 GtC/year by 2050 and then to 1–2.8 GtC/year by 2100 are consistent with a 2°C target for a range of climate sensitivities (2.0–4.5°C) similar to the IPCC likely range. Changes in the surface temperature beyond 2100 depend on the emission profiles after 2100. For post-2100 carbon emissions decreasing at a rate of about 1.5% per year along with continued decreases in non-CO2 emissions, our projections indicate that natural ecosystems will be able to absorb enough carbon to prevent surface temperature from rising further. A major reason for our results is that the land and ocean uptake rates are a function of the total atmospheric CO2 concentration and, due to the very long lifetime of CO2, this does not decrease anywhere near as fast as the imposed CO2 emissions. The required mixes of energy technologies and the overall costs to achieve the 2°C target are highly dependent on the assumptions about the future costs of low-carbon and zero-carbon emitting technologies. In all our projections, the global energy system requires substantial transformations in a relatively short time.