Beyond ‘dangerous’ climate change: emission scenarios for a new world

Kevin Anderson, Alice Bows


The Copenhagen Accord reiterates the international community’s commitment to ‘hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius’. Yet its preferred focus on global emission peak dates and longer-term reduction targets, without recourse to cumulative emission budgets, belies seriously the scale and scope of mitigation necessary to meet such a commitment. Moreover, the pivotal importance of emissions from non-Annex 1 nations in shaping available space for Annex 1 emission pathways received, and continues to receive, little attention. Building on previous studies, this paper uses a cumulative emissions framing, broken down to Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 nations, to understand the implications of rapid emission growth in nations such as China and India, for mitigation rates elsewhere. The analysis suggests that despite high-level statements to the contrary, there is now little to no chance of maintaining the global mean surface temperature at or below 2°C. Moreover, the impacts associated with 2°C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2°C now more appropriately represents the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change. Ultimately, the science of climate change allied with the emission scenarios for Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 nations suggests a radically different framing of the mitigation and adaptation challenge from that accompanying many other analyses, particularly those directly informing policy.

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