, Volume 82, Issue 1-2, pp 27-45

Why delaying emission reductions is a gamble

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Abstract

In the debate on the timing of greenhouse gas emissions reductions the aspect of political feasibility has often been missing. We introduce this aspect and show that, if we decide to delay emissions reductions, and the environmental effectiveness of global mitigation efforts is to remain the same in terms of temperature change, we must be willing and able to undertake much more substantial emission reductions than with early action. Even under conservative assumptions on initial political feasibility (maximum 0.25% year-on-year reductions), a 20-year delay means that we must reduce emissions at an annual rate that is 5 to 11 times greater than with early climate action. Our capacity for technological progress, political change and the inertia of the socio-economic system gives us reason to be concerned about our ability to achieve such higher rates of emission reductions. If we are not able to achieve such higher rates, delaying action will inevitably result in higher temperatures in 2100. Unless we are willing to accept higher temperatures, choosing to delay climate action is a gamble that political feasibility will increase over time as a result of the delay itself.