Climatic Change

, Volume 53, Issue 4, pp 413-446

First online:

The Consequences of CO2 Stabilisation for the Impacts of Climate Change

  • N. W. ArnellAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Southampton
  • , M. G. R. CannellAffiliated withNERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
  • , M. HulmeAffiliated withTyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia
  • , R. S. KovatsAffiliated withCentre on Globalisation, Environmental Change and Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • , J. F. B. MitchellAffiliated withHadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research
  • , R. J. NichollsAffiliated withFlood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University
  • , M. L. ParryAffiliated withJackson Environment Institute, University of East Anglia
  • , M. T. J. LivermoreAffiliated withClimatic Research Unit, University of East Anglia
  • , A. WhiteAffiliated withDepartment of Mathematics, Heriot-Watt University

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This paper reports the main results of an assessment of the global-scale implications of the stabilisation of atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 750 ppm (by 2250) and 550 ppm (by 2150), in relationto a scenario of unmitigated emissions. The climate change scenarios were derived from simulation experiments conducted with the HadCM2 global climate model and forced with the IPCC IS92a, S750 and S550 emissions scenarios. The simulated changes in climate were applied to an observed global baseline climatology, and applied with impacts models to estimate impacts on natural vegetation, water resources, coastal flood risk and wetland loss, crop yield and food security, and malaria. The studies used a single set of population and socio-economic scenarios about the future that are similar to those adopted in the IS92a emissions scenario.An emissions pathway which stabilises CO2 concentrations at 750 ppmby the 2230s delays the 2050 temperature increase under unmitigated emissions by around 50 years. The loss of tropical forest and grassland which occurs by the 2050s under unmitigated emissions is delayed to the 22nd century, and the switch from carbon sink to carbon source is delayed from the 2050s to the 2170s. Coastal wetland loss is slowed. Stabilisation at 750 ppm generally has relatively little effect on the impacts of climate change on water resource stress, and populations at risk of hunger or falciparum malaria until the 2080s.A pathway which stabilises CO2 concentrations at 550 ppm by the 2170s delays the 2050 temperature increase under unmitigated emissions by around 100 years. There is no substantial loss of tropical forest or grassland, even by the 2230s, although the terrestrial carbon store ceases to act as a net carbon sink by around 2170 (this time because the vegetation has reached a new equilibrium with the atmosphere). Coastal wetland loss is slowed considerably, and the increase in coastal flood risk is considerably lower than under unmitigated emissions. CO2 stabilisation at 550 ppm reduces substantially water resource stress, relative to unmitigated emissions, but has relatively little impact on populations at risk of falciparum malaria, and may even cause more people to be at risk of hunger. While this study shows that mitigation avoids many impacts, particularly in the longer-term (beyond the 2080s), stabilisation at 550 ppm appears to be necessary to avoid or significantly reduce most of the projected impacts in the unmitigated case.