Climate change impacts are sensitive to the concentration stabilization path

Brian C. O'Neill, Michael Oppenheimer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Analysis of policies to achieve the long-term objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, stabilizing concentrations of greenhouse gases at levels that avoid "dangerous" climate changes, must discriminate among the infinite number of emission and concentration trajectories that yield the same final concentration. Considerable attention has been devoted to path-dependent mitigation costs, generally for CO2 alone, but not to the differential climate change impacts implied by alternative trajectories. Here, we derive pathways leading to stabilization of equivalent CO2 concentration (including radiative forcing effects of all significant trace gases and aerosols) with a range of transient behavior before stabilization, including temporary overshoot of the final value. We compare resulting climate changes to the sensitivity of representative geophysical and ecological systems. Based on the limited available information, some physical and ecological systems appear to be quite sensitive to the details of the approach to stabilization. The likelihood of occurrence of impacts that might be considered dangerous increases under trajectories that delay emissions reduction or overshoot the final concentration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16411-16416
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number47
StatePublished - Nov 23 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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