Study shows the cumulative impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on climate has potentially profound economic and policy implications.

Millar, R., Allen, M., Rogelj, J. and Friedlingstein, P. (2016) The cumulative carbon budget and its implications. Oxf Rev Econ Policy (2016) 32 (2): 323-342. doi: 10.1093/oxrep/grw009

Abstract

The cumulative impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions on climate has potentially profound economic and policy implications. It implies that the long-term climate change mitigation challenge should be reframed as a stock problem, while the overwhelming majority of climate policies continue to focus on the flow of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2030 or 2050. An obstacle, however, to the use of a cumulative carbon budget in policy is uncertainty in the size of this budget consistent with any specific temperature-based goal such as limiting warming to 2°C. This arises from uncertainty in the climate response to CO2 emissions, which is relatively tractable, and uncertainty in future warming due to non-CO2 drivers, which is less so. We argue these uncertainties are best addressed through policies that recognize the need to reduce net global CO2 emissions to zero to stabilize global temperatures but adapt automatically to evolving climate change. Adaptive policies would fit well within the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.