Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Long-term Stabilization Of Carbon Dioxide In Atmosphere Will Require Major Cuts In Emissions

Date:
November 3, 2008
Source:
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)
Summary:
Carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that has had the largest impact on our climate, will continue to rise even if current national and international targets for reducing emissions are met, scientists warn. But, they say, strong action taken now – such as the 80% target recently announced by the UK government – will continue to have benefits a long time into the future.

Oil refinery. Carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that has had the largest impact on our climate, will continue to rise even if current national and international targets for reducing emissions are met, scientists warn.
Credit: iStockphoto/Jason Smith

Carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that has had the largest impact on our climate, will continue to rise even if current national and international targets for reducing emissions are met, scientists warn. But, they say, strong action taken now– such as the 80% target recently announced by the UK government – will continue to have benefits a long time into the future.

A group of scientists have, for the first time, combined the outcomes of proposals by the G8 countries and the UK Government’s Stern Review with the latest knowledge of climate change feedbacks relating to the carbon cycle (the way carbon moves between the oceans, atmosphere and land).

Their findings show that short-term cuts alone will not solve the problem and that policy makers need to plan for hundreds of years into the future.

Jo House, from the Natural Environment Research Council’s QUEST programme at the University of Bristol, led the research. She says, “To be able to predict the climatic impact of various levels of emissions we need to know, and account for, what happens to the greenhouse gases once they enter the atmosphere. Gases such as methane or nitrous oxide only remain in the atmosphere for a few years or decades. Carbon dioxide is a different matter as a portion of emitted gas stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years. “

“Furthermore, as the climate changes, a larger proportion of the carbon dioxide will remain in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is taken up by land and ocean sinks, which become less effective as the climate warms, leading to even greater warming for a given level of emissions – this is known as climate feedback. Our calculations demonstrate the level of emissions reduction we need to achieve to limit climate change to below what is considered ‘dangerous’.”

Working alongside colleagues from the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of Exeter, Jo House ran computer models to see what would happen under the G8 plans to cut global emissions by 50% by 2050. The models show that under this scenario, unless emissions cuts continue beyond 2050, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will continue to rise rapidly.

By 2100 the models suggest that carbon dioxide concentrations could be as high as 590 parts per million (ppm) – more than double the level of 280ppm that persisted for thousands of years before the industrial revolution, and significantly higher than today’s level, caused by the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, of 386ppm. By 2300 the worst-case scenario shows that carbon dioxide levels could be 980ppm with an accompanying rise in global temperature of 5.7°C. (The European Union has taken the stance in international climate negotiations that climate change should be limited to 2°C to avoid “dangerous impacts”)

Using the Stern Review proposal, of cutting emissions by 25% by 2050 and continuing to make cuts down to 80% towards the end of the century, the models show a more hopeful future. In this case the carbon dioxide levels would become almost stable, at levels of between 500 and 600ppm by 2100, although they would creep up further into the future if greater cuts were not made. In this case the temperature by 2100 ranges between 1.4 and 3.4 °C depending on the model used, and by 2300 it is also almost stable with a maximum of 4.2 °C.

The Stern Review concluded that, to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, the concentrations of all greenhouse gases should be limited to what is equivalent to between 450 and 550ppm of carbon dioxide concentration.

House and her colleagues say that making cuts in other greenhouse gases is no good if the longer term problem of atmospheric carbon dioxide is ignored.

“To achieve long-term stabilisation of carbon dioxide levels at around 550ppm will require cuts in global emissions of between 81% and 90% by 2300, and even more beyond that time. We applaud the government’s new plans to cut UK emissions by 80% by 2050. This is a realistic assessment of the scale of the problem and the action needed,” says House. “Our research confirms that bringing other countries on board to meet a global target of 80% reductions towards the end of the century will virtually stabilise carbon dioxide levels, but a much longer-term strategy is still needed to reduce future emissions even further,” .

She adds, “Tackling the problem of global warming seems even more daunting when climate change feedbacks are taken into account, but we shouldn’t feel despondent and give up on the challenge. It should encourage us to carry on making cuts in emissions, however small they seem to start with, because whatever we do now will have a beneficial long-term legacy.”

The research was supported by the Natural Environment Research Council through the QUEST Programme and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, and by the Joint Defra/ MoD Integrated Climate Change Programme.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. House et al. What do recent advances in quantifying climate and carbon cycle uncertainties mean for climate policy? Environmental Research Letters, 2008; 3 (4): 044002 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/3/4/044002

Cite This Page:

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). "Long-term Stabilization Of Carbon Dioxide In Atmosphere Will Require Major Cuts In Emissions." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 November 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081029105811.htm>.
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). (2008, November 3). Long-term Stabilization Of Carbon Dioxide In Atmosphere Will Require Major Cuts In Emissions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 15, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081029105811.htm
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). "Long-term Stabilization Of Carbon Dioxide In Atmosphere Will Require Major Cuts In Emissions." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081029105811.htm (accessed September 15, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Monday, September 15, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Conservationists Face Uphill PR Battle With New Shark Rules

Newsy (Sep. 14, 2014) — New conservation measures for shark fishing face an uphill PR battle in the fight to slow shark extinction. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Pakistan's 'killer Mountain' Fails to Draw Tourists After Attack

Pakistan's 'killer Mountain' Fails to Draw Tourists After Attack

AFP (Sep. 12, 2014) — In June 2013, 10 foreign mountaineers and their guide were murdered on Nanga Parbat, an iconic peak that stands at 8,126m tall in northern Pakisan. Duration: 02:34 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Solar Storm To Hit This Weekend, Scientists Not Worried

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — Two solar flares which erupted in our direction this week will arrive this weekend. The resulting solar storm will be powerful but not dangerous. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Ozone Layer Is Recovering, But It's Not All Good News

The Ozone Layer Is Recovering, But It's Not All Good News

Newsy (Sep. 11, 2014) — The Ozone layer is recovering thickness! Hooray! But in helping its recovery, we may have also helped put more greenhouse gases out there. Hooray? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins