Young People's Burden: Requirement of Negative CO2 Emissions

Global temperature is a useful metric for global climate that helps define the potential amplitude of slow climate feedbacks, such as ice sheet melt and sea level rise. Annual temperature in 2016, enhanced by the 2015-2016 El Nino, was +1.3 degC relative to 1880-1920. The underlying trend since 1970 is +0.18 degC/decade, and current temperature excluding short-term variability has reached +1 degC relative to 1880-1920, as warm as estimated for the Eemian interglacial, when sea level reached 6-9 meters higher than today. If temperature remains at this or a higher level, slow amplifying feedbacks will lead to greater climate change and consequences, on time scales that are difficult to predict but are dependent on the magnitude of warming. Targets for limiting global warming thus should aim to avoid leaving temperature at Eemian or higher levels for centuries. Such targets require negative emissions, extraction of CO2 from the air. If phasedown of fossil fuel emissions begins soon, improved agricultural and forestry practices, may provide much of the necessary CO2 extraction. In that case, the magnitude and duration of temperature excursion above the natural range of the current interglacial could be limited and irreversible climate impacts minimized. In contrast, continued high fossil fuel emissions place a burden on young people to undertake massive technological CO2 extraction if they are to limit climate change. Proposed methods of extraction such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage or air capture of CO2 would have minimal estimated costs of 89-535 trillion dollars this century and also have large risks and uncertain feasibility. Continued high emissions sentence young people to a massive, implausible cleanup or growing deleterious climate impacts or both. These scenarios should provide incentive and obligation for governments to alter energy policies without further delay.

Comments: 55 pages, 20 figures

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