Moving Beyond Concentrations: The Challenge of Limiting Temperature Change
AbstractThe UN Framework Convention on Climate Change shifted the attention of the policy community from stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions to stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. While this represents a step forward, it does not go far enough. We find that, given the uncertainty in the climate system, focusing on atmospheric concentrations is likely to convey a false sense of precision. The causal chain between human activity and impacts is laden with uncertainty. From a benefit-cost perspective, it would be desirable to minimize the sum of mitigation costs and damages. Unfortunately, our ability to quantify and value impacts is limited. For the time being, we must rely on a surrogate. Focusing on temperature rather than on concentrations provides much more information on what constitutes an ample margin of safety. Concentrations mask too many uncertainties that are crucial for policy making.
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