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21 Jan 2011 10:01:12

Climate change and mitigation challenge

Global climate change and the mitigation challenge—by Frank Princiotta.

Anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, have led to increasing atmospheric concentrations, the primary cause of the 0.8ºC warming the earth has experienced since the industrial revolution. With industrial activity and population expected to increase for the rest of the century, large increases in greenhouse gas emissions are projected, with substantial global additional warming predicted.

While much literature exists on various aspects of this subject, this paper aims to provide a succinct integration of the projected warming the earth is likely to experience in the decades ahead, the emission reductions that may be needed to constrain this warming, and the technologies needed to help achieve these emission reductions. This paper uses available, transparent modeling tools and the most recent existing literature, to draw broad conclusions about the challenge posed by climate change and potential technological remedies. The paper examines forces driving carbon dioxide emissions, how different carbon dioxide emission trajectories could affect temperature this century, a concise sector-by-sector summary of mitigation options, and R&D priorities.

It is concluded that it is too late too avoid substantial warming. The best result that appears achievable would be to constrain warming to about 2.0ºC (range of 1.3 to 2.7ºC) above pre-industrial levels by 2100. A more realistic goal would be to limit 2100 warming to 2.5± 0.7 ºC. In order to constrain warming to such a level, the current annual 3% carbon dioxide emission growth rate needs to transform rapidly to an annual decrease rate of from 1 to 3% for decades.

Further, the current generation of energy generation and end use technologies are capable of achieving less than half of the emission reduction needed for such a major mitigation program. New technologies will have to be developed and deployed at a rapid rate, especially for the key power generation and transportation sectors. Current energy technology research, development, demonstration and deployment programs fall far short of what is required.

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