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 School of Geography and the Environment

25 November 2012


Research highlights urgency of reducing carbon dioxide emissions

As Ministers gather in Warsaw for the latest round of climate change negotiations, two papers led by the University of Oxford are published on-line in the journal Nature Climate Change this week.

The two papers, Impact of delay in reducing carbon dioxide emissions and The role of short-lived climate pollutants in meeting temperature goals, both highlight the urgency of reducing global emissions of carbon dioxide despite the fact that global warming appears to have slowed over the past decade.

In their paper, Myles Allen and Thomas Stocker assess the impact of further delay in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. "Unless we assume the long-suffering taxpayers of the 2020s somehow manage to compensate for continued procrastination now, peak carbon-dioxide-induced warming is increasing at the same rate as carbon dioxide emissions themselves – almost 2% per year – much faster than observed warming," explains Myles Allen. "So if we were aiming in 2010 to limit warming to two degrees, a delay of only 5 years has already cost us two tenths of a degree if we make the same effort starting in 2015 – that’s equal to the observed warming since the early 1990s."

A second paper led by Niel Bowerman of the University’s Department of Physics looks at the impact of measures to cut emissions of other global warming agents like methane and soot. David Frame, a co-author at Victoria University Wellington, explains their key result: "We show that taking action today on emissions of these short-lived climate pollutants will have relatively little impact on peak warming unless carbon dioxide emissions are reduced at the same time. So action on these other pollutants does not ‘buy time’ to delay action on CO2."

Both studies were supported by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Oxford Martin School.