Moving Beyond Concentrations: The Challenge of Limiting Temperature Change

32 Pages Posted: 13 May 2004

See all articles by Richard G. Richels

Richard G. Richels

Electric Power Research Institute, U.S.A.

Alan S. Manne

Stanford University - Department of Mechanical Engineering

Tom M.L. Wigley

National Center for Atmospheric Research

Date Written: April 2004

Abstract

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change shifted the attention of the policy community from stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions to stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. While this represents a step forward, it does not go far enough. We find that, given the uncertainty in the climate system, focusing on atmospheric concentrations is likely to convey a false sense of precision. The causal chain between human activity and impacts is laden with uncertainty. From a benefit-cost perspective, it would be desirable to minimize the sum of mitigation costs and damages. Unfortunately, our ability to quantify and value impacts is limited. For the time being, we must rely on a surrogate. Focusing on temperature rather than on concentrations provides much more information on what constitutes an ample margin of safety. Concentrations mask too many uncertainties that are crucial for policy making.

Keywords: climate, change, greenhouse, gas, emissions, surrogate

JEL Classification: Q20, Q30

Suggested Citation

Richels, Richard and Manne, Alan S. and Wigley, Tom M.L., Moving Beyond Concentrations: The Challenge of Limiting Temperature Change (April 2004). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=545742 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.545742

Richard Richels (Contact Author)

Electric Power Research Institute, U.S.A. ( email )

3412 Hillview Avenue
P.O. Box 10412
Palo Alto, CA 94304-1395
United States
415-855-2602 (Phone)
415-855-1080 (Fax)

Alan S. Manne

Stanford University - Department of Mechanical Engineering ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Tom M.L. Wigley

National Center for Atmospheric Research ( email )

Boulder, CO 80307
United States

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