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Implications of weak near-term climate policies on long-term mitigation pathways

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While the international community has agreed on the long-term target of limiting global warming to no more than 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, only a few concrete climate policies and measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been implemented. We use a set of three global integrated assessment models to analyze the implications of current climate policies on long-term mitigation targets. We define a weak-policy baseline scenario, which extrapolates the current policy environment by assuming that the global climate regime remains fragmented and that emission reduction efforts remain unambitious in most of the world’s regions. These scenarios clearly fall short of limiting warming to 2 °C. We investigate the cost and achievability of the stabilization of atmospheric GHG concentrations at 450 ppm CO2e by 2100, if countries follow the weak policy pathway until 2020 or 2030 before pursuing the long-term mitigation target with global cooperative action. We find that after a deferral of ambitious action the 450 ppm CO2e is only achievable with a radical up-scaling of efforts after target adoption. This has severe effects on transformation pathways and exacerbates the challenges of climate stabilization, in particular for a delay of cooperative action until 2030. Specifically, reaching the target with weak near-term action implies (a) faster and more aggressive transformations of energy systems in the medium term, (b) more stranded investments in fossil-based capacities, (c) higher long-term mitigation costs and carbon prices and (d) stronger transitional economic impacts, rendering the political feasibility of such pathways questionable.

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  1. This scenario is identical to BAU DEF presented in the RoSE synthesis paper (Kriegler et al., Submitted for publication in this special issue).

  2. This scenario is identical to 450 DEF presented in the RoSE synthesis paper (Kriegler et al., Submitted for publication in this special issue).

  3. While the climate modules of all three models are calibrated to a climate sensitivity of 3 °C for a doubling of CO2 concentrations relative to pre-industrial levels, they differ in terms of other characteristics, such as the carbon cycle response, or transient climate response.

  4. Although reference GDP, population, and fossil fuel availability have been harmonized across models, baseline emissions still differ across models, reflecting different structural and technology assumptions.

  5. The cumulative budgets for the weak actions scenarios are slightly higher than in the immediate action scenario. Due to carbon cycle dynamics, a smaller share of emissions that occur early in the century remain airborne, compared to emissions that occur at a later point in time.

  6. In GCAM, BECCS and Gas CCS deployment in the weak action cases is lower than in the immediate action cases after 2080. For both technologies, the cost of electricity generation is higher in the WEAK action cases after 2080, due to higher bioenergy prices in the case of BECCS and the higher carbon prices applied to residual emissions in the case of Gas CCS.

  7. The mechanism of R&D in energy efficiency is not represented in REMIND and GCAM.

  8. It is important to note that we quantify the costs of reducing emissions, but do not consider the benefits of avoided climate damages.

  9. In REMIND and WITCH, mitigation costs are calculated as consumption losses relative to the baseline. In GCAM, mitigation costs were calculated as the area under the marginal abatement cost curve (Calvin et al. 2009b). A discount rate of 5 % was used for the intertemporal aggregation of mitigation costs.


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This work was supported by Stiftung Mercator in the context of the RoSE project.

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Correspondence to Gunnar Luderer.

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This article is part of a Special Issue on “The Impact of Economic Growth and Fossil Fuel Availability on Climate Protection” with Guest Editors Elmar Kriegler, Ottmar Edenhofer, Ioanna Mouratiadou, Gunnar Luderer, and Jae Edmonds.

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Luderer, G., Bertram, C., Calvin, K. et al. Implications of weak near-term climate policies on long-term mitigation pathways. Climatic Change 136, 127–140 (2016).

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