Letter

Climatic Change

, Volume 113, Issue 2, pp 551-561

Copenhagen Accord Pledges imply higher costs for staying below 2°C warming

A Letter
  • Jasper van VlietAffiliated withClimate, Air and Energy, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency Email author 
  • , Maarten van den BergAffiliated withClimate, Air and Energy, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
  • , Michiel SchaefferAffiliated withClimate Analytics GmbH
  • , Detlef P. van VuurenAffiliated withClimate, Air and Energy, Netherlands Environmental Assessment AgencyUtrecht University, Faculty of Geosciences
  • , Michel den ElzenAffiliated withClimate, Air and Energy, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
  • , Andries F. HofAffiliated withClimate, Air and Energy, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
  • , Angelica Mendoza BeltranAffiliated withClimate, Air and Energy, Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency
  • , Malte MeinshausenAffiliated withPRIMAP Group, Earth System Analysis, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne

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Abstract

This study compares emission pathways aimed at limiting temperature increase to 2°C under varying constraints. In a first set of pathways, the timing of emission reductions is such that over the 2010–2100 period, assuming full participation from 2013 onwards, mitigation costs are minimized. In a second set of pathways, we set emissions in 2020 at a level based on the pledges of the Copenhagen Accord. In the ‘Copenhagen Potential’ scenario, climate talks result in satisfying conditions linked by countries to their ‘most ambitious’ proposals. Contrasting, in the ‘Copenhagen Current’ scenario, climate talks fall short of satisfying the conditions to move beyond current unilateral pledges. We include scenarios with and without the availability of bio-energy in combination with carbon capture and storage. We find that for a ‘Copenhagen Potential’ scenario, emissions by 2020 are higher (47 GtCO2eq/yr) than for a least-cost pathway for 2°C (43 GtCO2eq/yr with a 40–46 GtCO2eq/yr literature range). In the ‘Copenhagen Potential’ scenario the 2°C target can still be met with a likely chance, although discounted mitigation costs over 2010–2100 could be 10 to 15 % higher, and up to 60 % in the 2040–2050s, than for least-cost pathways. For the ‘Current Copenhagen’ scenario, maintaining an equally low probability of exceeding 2°C becomes infeasible in our model, implying higher costs due to higher climate risks. We conclude that there is some flexibility in terms of 2020 emissions compared to the optimal pathways but this is limited. The 2020 emission level represents a trade-off between short-term emission reductions and long-term dependence on rapid reductions through specific technologies (like negative emission reductions). Higher 2020 emissions lead to higher overall costs and reduced long-term flexibility, both leading to a higher risk of failing to hold warming below 2°C.