Allowable carbon emissions for medium-to-high mitigation scenarios

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Tachiiri, Kaoru ; Hargreaves, Julia C. ; Annan, James D. ; Huntingford, Chris ; Kawamiya, Michio (2013)
  • Publisher: Tellus B
  • Journal: Tellus B (issn: 1600-0889, eissn: 0280-6509)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.3402/tellusb.v65i0.20586
  • Subject: climate-carbon cycle system; climate projection; carbon emission | climate-carbon cycle system; Earth system model of intermediate complexity; uncertainty; parameter perturbation; observational constraints; carbon uptake

Using an ensemble of simulations with an intermediate complexity climate model and in a probabilistic framework, we estimate future ranges of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in order to follow three medium-high mitigation concentration pathways: RCP2.6, RCP4.5 and SCP4.5 to 2.6. Uncertainty is first estimated by allowing modelled equilibrium climate sensitivity, aerosol forcing and intrinsic physical and biogeochemical processes to vary within widely accepted ranges. Results are then constrained by comparison against contemporary measurements. For both constrained and unconstrained projections, our calculated allowable emissions are close to the standard (harmonised) emission scenarios associated with these pathways. For RCP4.5, which is the most moderate scenario considered in terms of required emission abatement, then after year 2100 very low net emissions are needed to maintain prescribed year 2100 CO2 concentrations. As expected, RCP2.6 and SCP4.5 to 2.6 require more strict emission reductions. The implication of this is that direct sequestration of carbon dioxide is likely to be required for RCP4.5 or higher mitigation scenarios, to offset any minimum emissions for society to function (the ‘emissions floor’). Despite large uncertainties in the physical and biogeochemical processes, constraints from model-observational comparisons support a high degree of confidence in predicting the allowable emissions consistent with a particular concentration pathway. In contrast the uncertainty in the resulting temperature range remains large. For many parameter sets, and especially for RCP2.6, the land will turn into a carbon source within the 21st century, but the ocean will remain as a carbon sink. For land carbon storage and our modelling framework, major reductions are seen in northern high latitudes and the Amazon basin even after atmospheric CO2 is stabilised, while for ocean carbon uptake, the tropical ocean regions will be a source to the atmosphere, although uncertainties on this are large. The parameters which most significantly affect the allowable emissions are aerosols and climate sensitivity, but some carbon-cycle related parameters (e.g. maximum photosynthetic rate and respiration’s temperature dependency of vegetation) also have significant effects. Parameter values are constrained by observation, and we found that the CO2 emission data had a significant effect in constraining climate sensitivity and the magnitude of aerosol radiative forcing.Keywords: climate-carbon cycle system, earth system model of intermediate complexity, parametric uncertainty, observational constraints, allowable emissions, Representative Concentration Pathways(Published: 27 November 2013)Citation: Tellus B 2013, 65, 20586, http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/tellusb.v65i0.20586
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