Earth System Dynamics (Jul 2017)

Flexible parameter-sparse global temperature time profiles that stabilise at 1.5 and 2.0  °C

  • C. Huntingford,
  • H. Yang,
  • H. Yang,
  • A. Harper,
  • P. M. Cox,
  • N. Gedney,
  • E. J. Burke,
  • J. A. Lowe,
  • G. Hayman,
  • W. J. Collins,
  • S. M. Smith,
  • E. Comyn-Platt

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 8
pp. 617 – 626


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The meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2015 committed parties at the convention to hold the rise in global average temperature to well below 2.0 °C above pre-industrial levels. It also committed the parties to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 °C. This leads to two key questions. First, what extent of emissions reduction will achieve either target? Second, what is the benefit of the reduced climate impacts from keeping warming at or below 1.5 °C? To provide answers, climate model simulations need to follow trajectories consistent with these global temperature limits. It is useful to operate models in an inverse mode to make model-specific estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration pathways consistent with the prescribed temperature profiles. Further inversion derives related emissions pathways for these concentrations. For this to happen, and to enable climate research centres to compare GHG concentrations and emissions estimates, common temperature trajectory scenarios are required. Here we define algebraic curves that asymptote to a stabilised limit, while also matching the magnitude and gradient of recent warming levels. The curves are deliberately parameter-sparse, needing the prescription of just two parameters plus the final temperature. Yet despite this simplicity, they can allow for temperature overshoot and for generational changes, for which more effort to decelerate warming change needs to be made by future generations. The curves capture temperature profiles from the existing Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP2.6) scenario projections by a range of different Earth system models (ESMs), which have warming amounts towards the lower levels of those that society is discussing.