New publication: Cumulative emissions and climate policy

David J. Frame, Adrian H. Macey & Myles R. Allen (2104) Cumulative emissions and climate policy Nature Geoscience doi:10.1038/ngeo2254


For any given temperature target, such as limiting the warming of global mean surface temperatures to 2 °C above preindustrial levels, there is a total amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted into the atmosphere. If this target maximum temperature change is 2 °C, the threshold of cumulative emissions lies at about one trillion tonnes of carbon (emitted since the beginning of industrialization). Scientifically, this conceptual framework of a fixed carbon budget for a given temperature target has proved compelling and influential, and in principle it is also of strong relevance to policy4,5. As a potential measure for the success of climate mitigation policies, however, the concept of cumulative emissions has received a far cooler reception by many in international climate negotiations.