A Sequential-Decision Strategy for Abating Climate Change

by James K. Hammitt

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Current debate on policies for limiting climate change due to greenhouse-gas emissions focuses on whether to take action now or later, and on how stringent any emissions reductions should be in the near and long term. Any reductions policies implemented now will need to be revised later as scientific understanding of climate change improves. In this study, reprinted from Nature, the authors consider the effects of a sequential-decision strategy consisting of a near-term period (1992-2002) during which either moderate emission reductions (achieved by energy conservation only) or aggressive reductions (energy conservation coupled with switching to other fuel sources) are begun, and a subsequent long-term period during which a least-cost abatement policy is followed to limit global mean temperature change to an optimal target T. For each policy the authors calculate the global mean surface temperature change using a simple climate/ocean model for climate sensitivities (the response to doubled CO2 concentrations) of 4.5, 2.5, 1.5, and 0.5 degrees C. The policy beginning with moderate reductions is less expensive than that with aggressive reductions if T > 2.9, 2.1, 1.5 and 0.9 degrees C respectively; otherwise, the aggressive-reductions policy is cheaper. The authors suggest that this approach should assist in choosing realistic targets and in determining how best to implement emission reductions in the short and long term.

Originally published in: Nature, v. 357, May 28, 1992, pp. 315-318.

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