Why a 100-Year Time Horizon should be used for GlobalWarming Mitigation Calculations

  • Philip M. Fearnside
Article

Abstract

Global warming mitigation calculationsrequire consistent procedures for handlingtime in order to compare `permanent' gainsfrom energy-sector mitigation options with`impermanent' gains from many forest-sectoroptions. A critical part of carbonaccounting methodologies such as thosebased on `ton-years' (the product of thenumber of tons of carbon times the numberof years that each ton is held out of theatmosphere) is definition of a timehorizon, or the time period over whichcarbon impacts and benefits are considered. Here a case is made for using a timehorizon of 100 years. This choice avoidsdistortions created by much longer timehorizons that would lead to decisionsinconsistent with societal behavior inother spheres; it also avoids a rapidincrease in the implied value of time ifhorizons shorter than 100 years are used.Selection of a time horizon affectsdecisions on financial mechanisms andcarbon credit. Simple adaptations canallow a time horizon to be specified andused to calculate mitigation benefits andat the same time reserve a given percentageof weight in decision making forgenerations beyond the end of the timehorizon. The choice of a time horizon willheavily influence whether mitigationoptions such as avoided deforestation areconsidered viable.

carbon accounting deforestation avoidance global warming Kyoto Protocol land-use change ton-year accounting 

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2002

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  • Philip M. Fearnside

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