Got some bad news for all those countries trying to hammer out a successor to the Kyoto Protocol: aiming for carbon dioxide emissions reductions of 25, 50, even 75 percent in the coming decades ain’t gonna cut it.
The only way to stabilize Earth’s climate, according to new research, is to cut carbon emissions to zero … and to do it quick.
Climate scientists Ken Caldeira and Damon Matthews reached that conclusion after taking a new approach to future climate modeling. Rather than analyze what it would take to stabilize carbon dioxide levels, they crunched data to determine how much carbon we could continue pumping into the air without warming the Earth any further.
The answer they got was: none.
“Most scientific and policy discussions about avoiding climate change have centered on what emissions would be needed to stabilize greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” Caldeira said. “But stabilizing greenhouse gases does not equate to a stable climate.”
In Caldeira’s and Mathews’ model, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations slowly begin dropping only if emissions go to zero. And, even in that case, the Earth remains warm for another 500 years.
On the flip side, any emissions more than zero result in further warming of the planet.
“What if we were to discover tomorrow that a climate catastrophe was imminent if our planet warmed any further?” Caldeira asked.
That might be a question we’ll have to answer soon. Amazingly, though, Caldeira remains hopeful.
“It is just not that hard to solve the technological challenges,” he said. “We can develop and deploy wind turbines, electric cars, and so on, and live well without damaging the environment. The future can be better than the present, but we have to take steps to start kicking the CO2 habit now, so we won’t need to go cold turkey later.”