, Volume 117, Issue 4, pp 663-675
Date: 16 Aug 2012

Sensitivity of multi-gas climate policy to emission metrics

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Abstract

The Global Warming Potential (GWP) index is currently used to create CO2-equivalent emission totals for multi-gas greenhouse targets. While many alternatives have been proposed, it is not possible to uniquely define a metric that captures the different impacts of emissions of substances with widely disparate atmospheric lifetimes, which leads to a wide range of possible index values. We examine the sensitivity of emissions and climate outcomes to the value of the index used to aggregate methane emissions using a technologically detailed integrated assessment model. The methane index is varied between 4 and 70, with a central value of 21, which is the 100-year GWP value currently used in policy contexts. We find that the sensitivity to index value is, at most, 10–18 % in terms of methane emissions but only 2–3 % in terms of the maximum total radiative forcing change, with larger regional emissions differences in some cases. The choice of index also affects estimates of the cost of meeting a given end of century forcing target, with total two-gas mitigation cost increasing by 7–9 % if the index is increased, and increasing in most scenarios from 4 to 23 % if the index is lowered, with a slight (1 %) decrease in total cost in one case. We find that much of the methane abatement occurs as the induced effect of CO2 abatement rather than explicit abatement, which is one reason why climate outcomes are relatively insensitive to the index value. We also find that the near-term climate benefit of increasing the methane index is small.