The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change calls for the avoidance of "dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system". Among the many plausible choices, dangerous interference with the climate system may be interpreted as anthropogenic radiative forcing causing distinct and widespread climate change impacts such as a widespread demise of coral reefs or a disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet. The geological record and numerical models suggest that limiting global warming below critical temperature thresholds significantly reduces the likelihood of these eventualities. Here we analyze economically optimal policies that may ensure this risk-reduction. Reducing the risk of a widespread coral reef demise implies drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions within decades. Virtually unchecked greenhouse gas emissions to date (combined with the inertia of the coupled natural and human systems) may have already committed future societies to a widespread demise of coral reefs. Policies to reduce the risk of a West Antarctic ice sheet disintegration allow for a smoother decarbonization of the economy within a century and may well increase consumption in the long run.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Global and Planetary Change
- Atmospheric Science