Climate targets should be set on warming potential not emissions | 6/5/2018 | Staff
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Climate researchers at the University of Oxford say a new metric that demonstrates how different greenhouse gases warm the Earth's atmosphere over time will enable countries to create accurate emissions budgets, and meet the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming below 2°C.

A "CO2-warming-equivalence (CO2-we)" metric should replace the current "CO2-equivalence (CO2-e)," recommend the researchers in a study published today in the journal NPJ Climate and Atmospheric Sciences.

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"The headline goal of the Paris Agreement is to keep global warming well below 2°C, and to strive to stay below 1.5°C," said Dr. Michelle Cain of the Oxford Martin Programme on Climate Pollutants, who led the study. "These are clear temperature-based targets. It therefore makes sense to set emissions reductions targets based on how much warming they will cause or avoid. We can do this using CO2-warming-equivalence."

Currently, emissions of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide (CO2) are measured by their CO2-equivalence. However, this is a false equivalence for greenhouse gases that do not accumulate in the atmosphere over time in the way that CO2 does, and has led to an incorrect assumption that all emissions must reach net zero to reach the Paris goals. Methane, for example, is a more powerful greenhouse gas per kilogram than CO2, but only about half of 2009's methane emissions remain in the atmosphere today and continue to contribute warming. In contrast, almost all the CO2 from that year remains—and the CO2 will remain and continue to cause warming for a century or more.

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The proposed metric unambiguously links greenhouse gas emissions with their warming outcomes, no matter their lifespan. This means the warming impact of all greenhouse gases can be calculated directly from reported emissions, allowing short-lived gases like methane be effectively budgeted. Countries' contributions under the Paris Agreement could also be assessed against the Paris goals...
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