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Mind the gap – the case for medium level emission scenarios

Abstract

In this essay I argue that the research on emission scenarios over the past few years has focused on low emission scenarios while producing few medium level emission scenarios. As a consequence, there is a gap in the literature on emission scenarios which prohibits answering several basic questions. This relative lack of medium emission scenarios is problematic for three reasons. First, scientific integrity, as the research community should produce scenarios along the full range of future options. Second, there is currently a very limited number of scenarios that describe real-world conditions of imperfect climate policy combined with technology restrictions. Finally, I observe a growing mismatch between the mitigation research focus on low emission scenarios and research to impacts and adaptation on medium and high emission scenarios. If this trend continues, it will be difficult to draw overarching conclusions from mitigation and impacts research in IPCCs 6th Assessment Report. Therefore, this essay ends with several recommendations for the mitigation research community to stimulate production and publication of medium level emission scenarios.

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Notes

  1. In this paper, I define low emission scenarios as stabilizing below or around 3.7 W/m2.

  2. Another 26 % of the scenarios in the database are high emission scenarios around RCP6.0 and RCP8.5.

  3. http://www.ipcc.ch/report/graphics/images/Assessment%20Reports/AR5%20-%20Synthesis%20Report/SPM/SPM.10_rev3-01.png

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Acknowledgments

I am thankful to Brian O’Neill from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO, USA for discussions on this work and Elmar Kriegler from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impacts Research (PIK), Potsdam, Germany, for providing the set of debiased scenarios from the IPCC database. Comments from the reviewer were well appreciated and have greatly improved this essay.

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Correspondence to Bas J. van Ruijven.

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The National Center for Atmospheric Research is sponsored by the National Science Foundation

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van Ruijven, B.J. Mind the gap – the case for medium level emission scenarios. Climatic Change 138, 361–367 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-016-1744-8

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Keywords

  • Emission Scenario
  • Climate Policy
  • Mitigation Scenario
  • High Emission Scenario
  • Combine Limitation